Monsoons and Recurring Transport Nightmares for Delhi

Monsoon rains can bring a city like New Delhi to a standstill. Photo by Shriya Malhotra.

Monsoons are a seasonal reality for Indian cities. These rains vary by region and extend from June to September. The rains are not heavy in all places and do not fall all the time. Yet every year, the experience for city dwellers in megacities like Delhi and Mumbai—not to mention smaller cities—is the same. The massive rains cause road floods because of a lack of proper road drainage. And they can bring a city to its knees, causing temporary halts and setbacks. (Learn more in our blog series, “Mumbai through the Monsoon.”)

The situation recurs annually, with varying intensity, which is likely due to climate change. Just this week, Delhi experienced some of the heaviest rains it had seen in almost a decade for the month of September. Roads became flooded in the heavy downpour. Traffic became congested, halting mobility in the city. The development of the Delhi Metro has never seemed more timely.

An article in TIME Magazine published just before the Commonwealth Games were held in India’s capital in 2010 highlights some of the issues at the intersection of planning, transport and public health. While construction debris and poor planning plague the city, they also create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, resulting in innumerable cases of dengue fever and malaria.

Flooding is a serious problem for growing Indian cities. Photo by Sonal Shah.

The situation of rain and clogged roads poses several mobility and health hazards, particularly for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. It also resulted in traffic chaos this Friday. These problems affect a vast majority of commuters in Indian cities, despite the increasing use of personal vehicles.

Because of their direct exposure to the weather, cyclists, pedestrians and two-wheel drivers, such as motorcyclists and scooter drivers, find it extremely difficult, if not simply uncomfortable, to get around the city. While the Delhi Metro and revamped bus systems are changing this to a degree, it still poses a challenge for policymakers.

With growing inequality, the situation in Indian cities is complicated by the fact that in a tropical climate, once people can afford to, they often prefer the comforts and conveniences of cars and their climactic control, despite the many associated costs. This brings to light the fact that transport, as well as urban planning policies, should focus on enabling mobility and better health, especially for the poor, instead of excluding and overlooking their requirements. This means a priority on walkability, cycling and mass public transportation.

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