Impact of Persistent Rainfall on India’s Supply Chain and Potential Viability of the Japan Model

Various regions across north India have witnessed heavy torrential rainfall in the last few days causing loss of property and life, and forcing hundreds to be displaced. The capital city of Delhi itself recorded the heaviest rainfall in at least 41 years, and Himachal Pradesh is being said to have hit worst – all within a matter of hours. As a result, life itself has been paralysed in Delhi NCR due to waterlogged roads, flooded homes, house collapses, road cave-ins, and uprooted trees. The rainfall in just the last 36 hours, nearly 260mm, was 32% higher than the normal for the entire month of July, which is usually the second wettest after August in the capital. Multiple areas in Delhi NCR, Punjab, and Himachal are reporting extreme waterlogging, including key traffic stretches, and with more rain expected, the road and rail transport situation is only going to get worse.

Natural phenomena have always been a formidable challenge for cities and regions across the globe, and with the uninterrupted rise of global warming, an increased number of natural disasters are taking place frequently. While their impact on human lives and infrastructure is evident, they also expose critical vulnerabilities in logistics and supply chain systems. From the supply chain perspective, the aftermath of the rains and extensive flooding is a huge blow for the industrial activities in the affected areas too. It also considerably reduces food security across inaccessible regions.

What are the challenges?

Torpefied Road Network: The heavy downpour has led to waterlogged roads in various cities of north India, severely hampering transportation networks and cutting them off any possibility of relief endeavors. Many videos surfacing show people being rescued on boats. Many important stretches of Delhi-NCR have submerged, impeding the movement of vehicles and causing delays in the delivery of essential goods and services. This situation further worsened when critical transportation routes were blocked due to collapsed infrastructure.

Challenged Warehousing: Not only does heavy rainfall often lead to damage and inundation of warehouses and storage facilities, but also disrupts all efforts to replenish inventories, thereby exacerbating the existing supply chain challenges. Retailers and manufacturers are then faced with stock-outs and delays in meeting consumer demands.

Supply Chain Bottlenecks: The breakdown of transportation and storage facilities has caused significant bottlenecks across the country. While on one hand, the receiving end is struggling to stock inventories, on the other hand, the ‘providing’ end is struggling to deliver. The unexpected calamity has hampered the movement of raw materials and components to manufacturing plants. Additionally, finished products are also facing hurdles in reaching distribution centers and retail outlets.

Other Safety Concerns: Natural disasters often also lead to safety concerns for workers involved in logistics and supply chain operations. The risks associated with flooded roads, unstable structures, and hazardous conditions pose threats to the workforce. Road transportation is especially a hazard in areas like Himachal Pradesh, where multiple landslides and heavy flooding of rivers has been reported during the last few days. Additionally, employee absences and difficulties in commuting further exacerbate the already strained operations.

How to mitigate the risks?

While it is not possible to entirely eliminated the challenges associated with nature’s forces, they can certainly be mitigated by implementing robust strategies, which further reduces the impact of natural disasters on logistics and supply chain systems.

Considering that heavy rainfall and the resultant water-logging is not an alien experience in India, the first and foremost step is to invest in creating a resilient and robust infrastructure to withstand natural disasters. This includes building flood-resistant roads, better warehousing facilities, and efficient drainage systems that can quickly handle excessive rainfall.

There is a lesson that can be learned here from Japan. The country has a geographical terrain similar to India and is somewhat often witness to heavy rainfall, typhoons, and floods. Tokyo, one of the world’s foremost metropolitan areas, is making use of underground spaces in the fight against flooding. One example is the underground regulating reservoir being constructed to prevent overflow from small and medium-sized rivers. When heavy rain causes a river’s water level to rise, water flows from a weir built into a revetment down into the reservoir, thus reducing the amount of water flowing downstream. So far, 28 such facilities have been constructed, collectively holding a total of 2.56 million m3 of water.

Many other efforts to save lives from flooding are also being made across Japan, including the construction of levees and detention basins, as well as the refinement of heavy rain forecasts. A further example of Japan’s inundation prevention measures is the use of dams for hydropower and irrigation to control flooding.

An important part of Tokyo’s water management system is its early detection and warning systems. For instance, when heavy rain is predicted, in order to prevent floods in downstream areas, the national and prefectural governments have established a system to discharge a certain amount of dam water in advance. Similarly, India can develop a comprehensive emergency response system that outlines protocols for critical areas, including supply chain management, during crises. These plans should include contingency measures, alternative transportation routes, and effective communication channels among stakeholders.

When India is taking the fast route to being technologically advanced in its overall economic development, leveraging advanced technologies, such as real-time data analytics, remote monitoring systems, and predictive modeling, can enable proactive decision-making during natural disasters, and help create an intelligent crisis warning system. Access to accurate and timely information will help further to optimize logistics operations and minimize disruptions during natural calamities.

It has been long since the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlighted supply chain disruptions and vulnerability as one of the four emerging risk issues that will affect the world’s economy and society at present and in times to come. The WEF considers supply chain vulnerability to have an impact potential as high as systematic financial risks, food security, or energy supply. Therefore, there is an urgent need to design and execute agile supply chain strategies and ensure their appropriate execution.

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