Escaping the Siege of the City by Urban Floods

Vikas Chandra
Disaster Preparedness In India

With increasing global calamities, the gradual proliferation of socioeconomic, cultural and political inequality, spatial and infrastructural discontinuance and the clock steadily inching towards the doomsday of humanity, the need for sustainable development is high for the continued survival and prosperity of the human race.

Sai Varsha Akavarpu, Affiliation – Program Fellow, India Smart Cities Fellowship at the National Institute of Urban Affairs under MoHUA
Aman Singh Rajput, Affiliation – Program Fellow, India Smart Cities Fellowship at the National Institute of Urban Affairs under MoHUA

The idea for a universal, people and planet centric, comprehensive and sustainable development was first initiated during the Earth Summit held in 1992. Subsequently, as the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) era came to an end in 2015, the United Nations member states reconvened in 2015 to officially launch the bold and transformative 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The new Agenda calls on countries to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 15 years which are considered to be a shared vision for the continuity of the human race, humanity and the planet. A closer introspection of the goals presents the fact that the ulterior aim of SDGs is to create cities and human settlements that are inclusive, safe, healthy, resilient and sustainable, which is fully reflected in SDG 11. In order to achieve the SDG 11, nations would have to review the types and causes of the onset of various sudden events/calamities and carry out analyses of urban policies and plans to identify and track potential areas to make way for environmentally sensitive development.

However, the human race is currently facing a time of immense challenges. Developing economies like India, with urban population on the rise, has a plethora of issues posing threat to the sustainable development of the community. Urban practitioners often attend to urban issues in an ad-hoc manner such as desilting of drains before monsoon, cleaning of choked drains as a part of grievance redressal etc. but do not focus on creating permanent solutions that also have a behavioural impact on the community. With Mumbai housing one of the largest slums in the world at Dharavi, Delhi topping the charts in the degradation of air quality and Chennai, -Mumbai, Hyderabad and numerous other cities with over 15 million people being affected by flooding annually only highlights the consequences of old-fashioned and short-sighted planning undertaken in the country. Additionally, climate change has also proven to be one of the greatest challenges of our time and its adverse impacts undermine the ability to achieve sustainable development, putting the survival of humans and their communities at risk.

Urban Floods

It is also, however, a time of immense opportunity. Significant progress has been made by India in addressing many developmental challenges. With urban infrastructural and human vulnerabilities increasing as we speak, the idea of planning for ‘sustainable cities’ has come to the forefront through various centrally sponsored schemes such as Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart City Mission (SCM), Housing for All. A centrally sponsored scheme, SCM is aligned to achieving the maximum number of SDG’s especially the SDG 11 and 11.5 where cities aimed to significantly reduce the physical, economic and psychological impact caused by the occurrence of sudden events on the citizens, by creating sustainable and resilient communities and cities. To this extent, there have been numerous examples of cities focusing their investments in assessing social, economic and spatial risk and resilience and co-creating solutions with the citizens to minimise the impact of sudden events on zones (and people) that are prone to risk and lack resilience. This article is an attempt to highlight one such transformation addressed by the India Smart Cities Mission in achieving SDG 11.5 in Davanagere Smart City, where the smart city officials, urban practitioners and the civil society came together to combat the recurring issue of urban flooding.

Urban Flooding & Davanagere

Davanagere, also known as the ‘Manchester of Karnataka’ is the seventh-largest city in the state of Karnataka. Accelerated urbanisation coupled with inadequate and outdated infrastructure has put the city in a perilous position prone to sudden shocks and stresses such as torrential rains and flooding. With irregular sections of drains, silt deposit along the drain tributaries, ill-maintained utility pipes across the drains, improper disposal of drainage lines and the reduction of urban water bodies owing to development, the issue of flooding intensifies with every passing year and so does its impact on the quotidian.

To address the recurring issues of floods, Davanagere along with its citizens envisioned their city to be a place where L.I.F.E nestles where L stands for livable, convenient and safe; I stands for inclusive; F stands for financially vibrant and futuristic and E stands for edutainment, economic prosperity and environment friendly. A methodological approach was adopted by the city to combat floods which involved topographical survey and geotechnical investigation of the drain lines and cross-section, physical condition and capacity analysis of the existing drains. Consequently, a project proposal was drafted through rigorous citizen engagement and stakeholder’s consultation which involved identifying the key areas of intervention and elaborate discussions on connecting the drainage lines.

The structural interventions comprise the construction of major stormwater drains and sub-drains across the city taking into consideration their interconnections. 10 stormwater drainage projects of a total length of 37.18 km were identified. Wastewater management was given the highest priority during stakeholder’s consultation with a cumulative score of seven via citizen’s assessment since it was in a very poor condition. Due to the problems of excessive flooding of the low-lying areas of the city, the Davanagere Smart City brainstormed and implemented a series of stormwater infrastructure projects coupled with Information and Communication Technology initiatives. Non-Structural interventions include spreading awareness about the utilities of chain-linked fencing to discourage people from throwing the garbage in stormwater drains.

Urban Floods

The structural and non-structural interventions undertaken in Davanagere are an example of how through the Smart Cities Mission the often undermined issues of Indian cities related to poor and inadequate infrastructure can be effectively reduced by following the principles of cocreation and participatory envisioning with citizens. While the administrators and urban practitioners in Davanagere have vouched for the success of the project, the people living in the flood-prone zones have agreed to the same. Holistic engagement, water sensitive urban design and convergent approach had increased the effectiveness of the project and led to the reduction of urban floods by 90 per cent. The Mayor of Davanagere said that “Presently, despite the heavy rainfall events, the water gets drained out easily.


With the smart cities mission focusing on holistic development of cities through the SDG 11 by enhancing inclusive, contextual and sustainable human settlement planning, the quest to achieve a risk-reductive and resilienceinducing urban development is not far away. The co-creation project undertaken by the Davanagere Smart City is a prime example of how the Smart Cities Mission has enabled Indian cities to address the “urban problems of decades”.

The major takeaway from the case study analysis of stormwater drainage system development at Davanagere is the methodological approach of problem identification followed by a scientific and technical approach to solving the problem with people’s participation and envisioning at the centre. It validates that the existing drainage system in our cities is unable to flush out water from heavy rains and it requires a dedicated stormwater drainage system. To its credit, Davanagere Smart City extended the stormwater drainage network in three phases. Starting with the ABD area, the city has extended the network to PAN city, redesigning and developing the stormwater drains, ending the city-siege of Davanagere from urban floods. This experimentation in ABD and further extension of learnings to the entire city is in line with the objectives of the Smart Cities Mission and can be contextualised, scaled and replicated to cities constantly fighting floods every year.