City Focus No 2: Mumbai, India

Published on 17 June 2022 at 22:39

Mumbai is a coastal megacity, built on an archipelago of seven islands in the western part of India, in the state of Maharashtra. It is the second largest city in India (after Delhi) and the eighth largest on the megacity list with a population of around 20 million. We focus on Mumbai in this series as it is one of the most vulnerable port cities in the world to climate induced hazards such as sea-level rise, storm surge, flooding, and coastal erosion and this year (2022), a Climate Action Plan was announced for the city. 

Climate and Sustainability Challenges

Mumbai has faced several climate and sustainability challenges over the years including:

  • Rapid Urbanisation and Population Growth:

    The combination of rapid infrastructure development and fast economic growth attracted a large volume of in-migrants to the city which in turn led to the population increasing from 5.97 million in 1971 to 20, 961 million in 2022. Mumbai is a city of contrasts with the super-rich and luxury skyscrapers juxtaposed alongside slum areas – the largest being Dharavi which has more than one million inhabitants living in overcrowded conditions.
  • Rising Temperatures:

    Since 1973, there has been a constant warming trend with an average temperature increase of 0.25°C per decade and between 1973 and 2020, Mumbai faced 10 heatwaves and two extreme heatwaves.
  • Increased Flooding:

    Flooding has increased over the years and in particular, the floods of 2005, 2014, and 2017 caused significant damage to life and property in the city. Among the 20 cities projected to be the most vulnerable to coastal flooding in 2050 Mumbai is second only to Guangzou, China. An OECD study conducted by the University of Southampton predicts that by 2070, an estimated 11.4 million people and assets worth $1.3 trillion would be at peril in Mumbai due to climatic extremes. It  is further predicted that some of the cities with the most ‘at-risk’ assets now—Tokyo, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Nagoya—will, over the next 50 years, be surpassed by Kolkata, Shanghai, Mumbai, Tianjin, Bangkok, Ningbo, and Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Air Pollution:

    Inhabitants of Mumbai are vulnerable to air pollution, especially in high-risk areas where the concentration of air pollutants increases due to poor ventilation, use of non-LPG cooking fuel, or occupational hazards.
  • Degradation of urban green spaces and biodiversity

As an estuarine city, Mumbai has a diverse ‘blue-green’ ecosystem including green spaces. However, green space in the city is in decline due to various urban developmental projects which lack the adequate planning for the protection and conservation of green spaces for example, wetlands and mangroves have been shrinking.

  • Urban Heat Island Effect: 

    The decline in urban green spaces has had a deleterious effect on temperatures    withing the city and there has been an increase in surface air temperature causing the Urban Heat Island Effect.

The climate and sustainability challenges faced by Mumbai were further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The COVID Pandemic: issues of inequalities and resilience:

Mumbai was one of the worst affected cities by the COVID-19 pandemic because it is one of the most densely populated cities of India and the density in its slums e.g. ‘Dharavi’, (which is one of the most densely populated slum areas of the world) made lockdown and maintaining social distancing even more difficult. Deep-seated inequalities and vulnerabilities were amplified by the pandemic for example, the levels of poverty, lack of adequate housing and unsanitary and crowded conditions

Climate and Disease: Stirring up Municipal Action

The impact of flooding and then disease on the city brought about a shift in opinion amongst authorities and civic bodies to take measures to ensure resilience in the future. There is a realisation that successful implementation of the SDGs can help save the city and its residents from the worst effects of climate, sustainability and pandemic challenges.  In the February 2022 The City Fix Lab initiative was launched to accelerate nature-based solutions and in March 2022, the first Climate Action Plan was announced.

City Fix Lab and the Climate Action Plan

The City Fix Lab: Accelerating Nature Based Solutions’ initiative for Mumbai was launched on the 22 February 2022. Climate and sustainability issues such as water scarcity, flood and heat risk, declining air quality and vegetation loss are tackled by inviting innovative nature-based solutions from individual citizens and groups. The key action areas of the Mumbai Climate Action Plan include:

  • Sustainable waste management

    Aiming to decentralise municipal waste management by implementing actions such as segregation at source, organic waste composting, and so on. It lays emphasis on the 4R approach: reduce, reuse, recover, recycle, and also calls for treatment of wastewater.
  • Urban greening and biodiversity

    Mumbai has some of the lowest per capita green space ratios in the country therefore, the restoration and enhancement of biodiversity is a primary concern. This includes increasing vegetation cover to minimise the rise in temperature, reduce the effect of heatwaves and arrest urban flooding. The policy also calls for greenspace access for all citizens.
  • Urban flooding and water resource management

    Focusing on reducing problems caused due to waterlogging and floods while also dealing with the lack of safe and affordable drinking water. As mentioned earlier in this blog post, Mumbai is highly susceptible to coastal risks due to storms, and also faces extreme precipitation during monsoons, leading to frequent flooding in low-lying areas. Therefore, the Climate Action Plan aims at building flood-resilient infrastructure in the city by improving drainage networks and by improving early warning systems and sensitising vulnerable and coastal communities. It also promotes framing policies that promote the reuse of water through measures like increased percolation and rainwater harvesting.
  • Energy and buildings:

    Strategies to make Mumbai emission-free include minimising the role of carbon in electricity grids and promoting a transition to clean fuel resources. The Climate Action Plan aims to achieve this target by improving energy efficiency in both new and existing infrastructure and promoting green buildings.
  • Air quality:

    The primary step in ensuring the improvement of air quality is curbing pollution concentration levels.
  • Sustainable mobility:

    Mumbai will transition to using electric vehicles as opposed to fuel-powered ones. The policy also encourages the use of public transport systems that will, in turn, lead to cleaner air, reduced travel time and less congestion on the roads.

Local Voluntary Climate and Sustainability Action: the example of Food Forests

There are examples of local voluntary action in the city to tackle climate and sustainability challenges and one is Food Forests founded by George Remedios. Inspired by the declining and disappearing green spaces the initiative turns unused strips of land in schools, orphanages and old age homes into ‘food forests’. As well as providing food the food forests fulfil another function as they prevent waterlogging which is common after monsoons thus serving as a water management system.

Recognise the challenges faced by Mumbai?

Silent Spring Consultants can help your city achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and become resilient and sustainable.


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