The worst flood in a century has hit my home in Chennai

The climate and me: Hundreds died, homes were washed away, the power went and food supplies ran low

Áine Edwards: ‘A few years ago I bought wellies in Ireland to bring back to India, and people thought I was mad, but they are essential here during the monsoons when the sewers overflow.’

Áine Edwards: ‘A few years ago I bought wellies in Ireland to bring back to India, and people thought I was mad, but they are essential here during the monsoons when the sewers overflow.’

 

Is it ironic that as the UN summit has been taking place in Paris, where I live, Chennai in the south of India, has been hit by the worst floods in over 100 years. There are reports of 280 dead and 28,000 rescued.

I left Chennai for two days to attend a business meeting in Dubai last week and haven’t been able to return because the city has been so destroyed.

We get monsoons every year at this time, but there would always be a few days of sunshine between the heavy rains. This year the rains were relentless. We had three storms in a row, then a gap of a week, and when the fourth came in it was devastating. The government just wasn’t prepared.

Cars are under water. All the power went, the ATMs stopped working, and supplies to shops were cut off.

No one has access to cash, and the cost of food has soared. The price of a carton of milk went up from 15 to 100 rupees. Homes that are empty are being looted.

The flooding has been blamed on urbanisation. A lot of construction has been carried out which hasn’t been nature-proof, especially near lakes and rivers. Bridges have collapsed in the past week, and roads have caved in. The infrastructure just couldn’t hold under the pressure of all that water.

About 4.8 million live in Chennai and it is very densely populated. Many of the most impoverished live in low-lying slum areas, and they have been left homeless. Tens of thousands have been sent to relief camps.

A few years ago I bought wellies in Ireland to bring back to India, and people thought I was mad. But they are essential here during the monsoons when the sewers overflow. The smell is unbearable. People say there are snakes and scorpions in the water, and the filthy water and all the mosquitoes bring disease. My apartment is on the first floor and I work from home, so when the floods are bad I’m lucky that I don’t have to go out at all.

It is definitely getting hotter here as the years go by. The heat is unbearable in summer, with almost 100 per cent humidity and temperatures rising to the mid-40s. Even the Indians find the summers sweltering.

Climate change is a middle-class topic in the cities in India, but rural people have a much greater awareness of the impact of the changing weather on the land and on their farms.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to return to Chennai in the next few days. Trucks are arriving from the south of India with food and supplies. A few friends have been involved in the relief work, and the way the people have come together to help each other has been so heartening. – In conversation with Ciara Kenny

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