In the last few years, several cities in India, including Mumbai, Srinagar, Chennai and several towns in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, have experienced disasters and calamities caused by heavy rains and droughts. These have disrupted normal life, caused death and destruction, and paralyzed vibrant city economy. In response to this context, Way Forward Chennai (WFC) is a platform focussed on bringing together individual practitioners and organisations to advocate for inclusive and credible responses to urban disasters by looking at the areas of (a) city planning and development, (b) protection of the natural ecology, (c) disaster preparedness and management, (d) post disaster relief and rehabilitation, and (e) governance.
Early perceptions and the authorities' claims of “natural disaster” have come under public scrutiny. Poor city planning; governance failure; inadequate disaster preparedness and management; illegal and unauthorised constructions, violation of planning norms and building byelaws; neglect, abuse and destruction of the natural ecosystem in form of waterways, streams rivers, mangroves, vegetation, etc.; and communications and administrative failures have surfaced in different measures as causes of the destruction and devastation. While the resilience of the city’s middle and upper classes are eroded by these occurrences, the ability of the poor to absorb the stresses and adapt to the shocks are worn down.
Often in respite we forget to learn from these experiences to build a better future and improved resilience to future disasters. Instead, we resign ourselves to the inevitability of calamities and disasters with questionable accountability. It is imperative to understand the phenomenon and dig into the causative factors in some depth to find and suggest remedial measures. The repeated cycles of floods and droughts are a serious warning for us to act in addressing the matter collectively to ensure a safer tomorrow that is inclusive.