Hyderabad: Chennai lost more than one-fifth of its greenery in 20 years as the city urbanized rapidly, a study found.

According to a study by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), as urbanization in terms of buildings and open spaces grew from 1.46% to 18.55% between 1991 and 2012, vegetation cover fell 22%.

“Chennai has an intensely developed urban core, surrounded by rural or peri-urban areas that lack basic amenities," said the study by Dr. T.V. Ramachandra and Dr. Bharath H. Aithal from the Centre for Ecological Sciences at IISc.

Chennai, with a clumped landscape at the centre of the city, is predicted to convert 36% of its total area into urban areas by 2026.

Studying the peripheries of the city and the uneven development along the highways leading to the destruction of ecological balance, the researchers said it is a serious issue for Chennai because of the proximity to the sea. Higher greenhouse gas emissions due to unplanned urbanization correlates to an increase in the sea levels, in turn affecting inhabitants, the study said after analysing the sprawls.

“A sprawl is the dispersed growth at the outskirts of a city. These fragmented urban patches at the fringes are often encountered with serious environmental and social issues like lack of basic amenities and infrastructure. These pockets are usually left out of the planning process because they don’t come under either urban or rural areas," said Ramachandra.

The research team used temporal remote sensing data from the last 40 years to study the growth patterns and status of Chennai’s urban sprawl. The unsystematic growth, mostly in the north-west direction, coupled with fragmented governance has also resulted in the loss of marsh lands and inter-connectivities.

“If mistakes were made in the past, it is because people didn’t look at the data. Now that we have this information to show what it is going to be like in 2026, people can be cautious. Decision-makers can come up with appropriate mitigation measures using the outcome of this research," said Ramachandra.

The study was first published online in the Journal of the Indian Society of Remote Sensing.

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