During my field stay in Mumbai, I had the chance to attend the two-day consultative stakeholder workshop on framing flood risk in Mumbai on 28th and 29th of April 2022, hosted by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with World Resources Institute. The objective of the workshop was to understand Mumbai’s urban flooding issues across diverse perspectives by engaging with stakeholders from different departments of the MCGM including stormwater, water supply, solid waste management and disaster management, officials in charge of the implementation of the Development Control Regulation and Development Plan for Mumbai; but also academic experts ranging from engineering to planning and social and behavioural science.

Day 1 of the workshop was opened by Mr. Aaditya Thackeray, the Maharashtra Cabinet Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Tourism and Mr. P. Velrasu, Additional Municipal Commissioner (Projects), BMC. In Mr.Velrasu’s opening presentation on flood risk in Mumbai, he highlighted action already undertaken by the BMC but also many technical challenges (lack of accurate models, data gaps etc.), policy challenges (funding, political sensitivity of the issue leading to “unnecessary politicization” at times and dilemmas in funding allocation questions), relocation of settlements along river banks etc. He emphasized the need to work together and engage with other actors to build climate resilience. Furthermore, Minister Aaditya Thackeray called for a “climate test” to be applied to all new projects, recognizing the increasing impacts of extreme weather events.

Inauguration of the workshop by Minister Aaditya Thackeray (left) and Additional Municipal Commissioner P. Velrasu (right)

The workshop was organized in six sessions – technical considerations for flood management, vulnerability assessment, implementation of flood mitigation interventions, initiatives by the government, citizen stories and financing flood measures.

I very much enjoyed the direction and focus of the sessions towards solutions and thinking about a roadmap for the future. As a researcher focusing on adaptation to climate change, it was also very exciting to see the suggestion of thinking about options beyond engineering and nature-based solutions such as regulation, exchange of knowledge and a “realistic vulnerability assessment”. The session was opened by Dr. Kartiki Naik, who leads the Urban Flooding program within the Mumbai Climate Action Plan, pointed out that addressing flooding warrants coordination among multiple departments beyond the Stormwater Drainage Department, including Road and Transport, Urban Development, Sewage Disposal etc. The technical session generated knowledge sharing on existing flood forecasting models such as the I-FLOWS, land-use planning approaches through natural watersheds, challenges and gaps in flood modelling of the Mithi River and sea level rise impacts on coastal flood risk and cyclones.

Workshop sessions in progress

Transitioning from the technical session to the next on Assessing Vulnerability to Flooding in Mumbai, Prof. Amita Bhide highlighted how the technical session “brought home” the challenge of flooding deeply embedded in other realms such as political, social, economic etc. She pointed out in her opening remarks how the lack of mainstreaming of conventional vulnerability understandings in project impacts and developmental initiatives often leads to creating “persistent vulnerabilities”. The session called for vulnerability assessments of Mumbai as a region and not in silos, paying attention to homes and livelihoods of the poor which are or will be inundated due to rising seas, capturing social learning from affected people and the role of citizen groups and raised the question of what can be learned from Mumbai – especially from those who experience everyday vulnerabilities with living in wetness. There was also the need for taking a vulnerability-informed flood risk management approach which should move from short-term, quick response which are important but – to longer, holistic approaches. Other issues around framing vulnerability, addressing loss and damage and re-thinking the impact of resilient-oriented approaches, need for a justice framework, to name a few, were raised.

The third session on Implementation of Flood Interventions in Mumbai put forward ideas for neighbourhood and nature based city planning, mapping and development of natural spaces in the city, nature based solution, re-invigoration of water courses, breaking down RCC structures that are stifling the water; de-canalizing natural water courses, building more porous barriers to name a few. And not merely high capital expenditure engineering based solutions, low cost nature based solutions. Many practical examples were shared for example, urban greening initiatives. The input presentation by one expert was focused on the Floor Space Index (FSI) regulations within the Development Plan of Mumbai and its implications on flood risk.

One of the speakers emphasized the importance of beginning the study of understanding Mumbai from its geography and concluded with the thought that the main objective of flood interventions was to re-build and “re-gain” an “intimate nature-people relationship” that in his eyes had been “severed through urbanization and planning” strongly. This closing thought at the end of Day 1 of the workshop underlined the importance and aptness of working on TRANSCEND within the “Human-Environment Relations” unit of the Department of Geography at LMU.