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Rainfall: Deadly Mumbai downpours highlight climate change’s continued scourge

Climate crisis concept. Copyright: sangoiri / 123RF Stock Photo. Climate emergency concept. Torrential rainfall concept.
Image credit: sangoiri / 123RF Stock Photo

Torrential rainfall in Mumbai has left dozens of people dead and many without drinking water. 

As of Monday morning, the city recorded more than 250 millimetres of rain in the preceding 24 hours. 

The deadly Mumbai rains resulted in a landslide, causing considerable damage and loss of life. The Chembur suburb witnessed 21 deaths and the Vikhroli suburb saw ten fatalities. Rescue efforts continue in an effort to find survivors.

Swathes of northeastern India, much of the western Himalayan region, and sections of northeast India witnessed extreme rainfall on Monday morning, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. “Recent satellite imagery shows intense/ very intense convection over parts of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Uttar Pradesh, Haryana Chandigarh and Delhi, northwest Madhya Pradesh, northeast Rajasthan, north Konkan, Bihar, Sub Himalayan west Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura and neighbouring areas,” it said. 

The monsoon season arrived late this year, but has arrived with a vengeance. Torrential rainfall is anticipated to persist until Wednesday, July 21st. Maharashtra received a red alert and closed its transit system due to inundation of its transportation infrastructure. As reported by The Hindustan Times

“The weather department [said] that such intense spells of rain is likely to cause slippery roads and traffic disruption on roads; damage plantation, horticulture and standing crops; partial damage to vulnerable structures due to strong winds and partial damage to kutcha houses/walls and huts. It also recommended that people should avoid staying in vulnerable structures; stay indoors, close windows and doors and avoid travel if possible; do not take shelter under trees; do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls.”

Mumbai is regularly embattled by heavy rains during the monsoon season. For example, floods in 2019 deluged the city with the second-highest rainfall in 45 years. Nevertheless, the thunderstorm which precipitated the lethal landslide has been termed “uncommon” – and climate change is being fingered as the cause. “We have been talking about climate change and it is happening,” said state environment minister Aadtiya Thackeray.

According to climate scientist Roxy Mathew Koll, quoted by The Hindustan Times, “generally, monsoon patterns over India have altered, and now we’re having long dry periods [intermittently] with short spells of heavy rains within the monsoon season. In fact, the number of extreme rains has increased by threefold across several parts of India, including the west coast. Annual floods in Mumbai could be a result of this observed change in rainfall patterns (other than local factors leading to water-logging).” 

The climate crisis is anticipated to worsen in the years to come, as we noted earlier this year – with an uptick in extreme weather events such as the devastating rainfall pummelling Mumbai virtually guaranteed. “India is no stranger to the dangers of climate change, being among the countries most susceptible to the manifold crises of the climate crisis,” we noted. “Just this year, it witnessed the ravages of Cyclone Yaas and Cyclone Tauktae as well as Cyclone Nivar the year prior.” A draft UN report leaked by AFP News suggests the climate crisis “will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.”

Monsoons account for the deadliest natural disasters in India – and while there is scope for action to mitigate the effects of the climate catastrophe, time is running out. “Conservation and restoration of so-called blue carbon ecosystems — kelp and mangrove forests, for example — enhance carbon stocks and protect against storm surges, as well as providing wildlife habitats, coastal livelihoods and food security. Transitioning to more plant-based diets could also reduce food-related emissions as much as seventy percent by 2050,” says the draft UN report. But action is needed now. The grim portents of climate catastrophe are looming large, casting a shadow over our future as dark as the storm clouds which wreaked havoc in Mumbai lest we implement workable, ambitious solutions for the sake of our planet.

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