Water Infrastructure

In simple terms, the purpose of water infrastructure is to provide safe drinking water. Although the structures put in place might be capable of performing this on a regular basis, any flaws in the current system are exposed during natural disasters.  In both New Orleans and Chennai, flooding has demonstrated how a poor water infrastructure can further escalate the damages of natural calamities. In both situations, post-disaster analysis of the events criticized the government in their negligence to properly plan and fund the development of existing water systems. Although providing clean water is the most important goal, an effective water infrastructure is capable of addressing issues with drainage, transportation, and preparing floodplain zones to withstand the pressures of an increase in water.

In the event of Hurricane Katrina, the cause of such a massive flooding was primarily a result of an engineering failure in the construction of a levee in New Orleans. According to post-disaster studies, a majority of deaths were the result of poor government planning and supervision. The engineers responsible for the construction of the levee were accused for choosing cheaper materials.[13] In hind sight, a proper update to the levee system could have potentially withstood the pressure of a Category 5 tropical storm. Considering that New Orleans is located in a region with low-lying land that is prone to flooding, proper precautions should have been taken in order to minimize the impact of such natural disasters.[15] Nearly a year after the tragedy, in August of 2006, the large-scale impact of the levee failure during Hurricane Katrina motivated the government to update the National Levee Program Act to reassess current systems in place and “focus on sustainability.”[13]

Although the flooding in Chennai is not specifically related to a levee failure, the event revealed another important aspect of an effective water system. The issue in India was primarily attributed to the poor drainage system.[1] In recent years, India has seen an increase in construction of buildings in order to accommodate for the demands of a growing population. The problem, however, is that a number of these projects were illegal and compromised the drainage system in place. In fact, “studies show that at least 300 water bodies have been converted into residential areas.”[5] According to the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) Director General Sunita Narain, the concern is that “we have forgotten the art of drainage. Excessive construction leads to poor recharge of groundwater aquifers and blocking of natural drainage systems.” [19] The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), the organization in charge of approving construction in the area, was heavily criticized by public health officials and journalists. The CDMA, they argue, should be held responsible for their negligence to monitor and assess the impact of construction in floodplains. Similar to the situation in New Orleans, improvements to the water infrastructure could have reduced the damage caused by natural disasters.