More than 110 people have died in the last 4 days in Eastern UP and Bihar, due to the flood-like situation developing in the state. The above-average rainfall received in the regions has caused the weather offices in the state to issue red alerts. The insanity of numbers is what makes the situation so grave. 100 people in 4 days and that due to something like floods which can be predicted in advance is a sorry situation for a developing country like India. To put it in perspective, the 26/11 attacks lead to a loss of life of 166 people. We’re almost matching that number with a flood. Simply put, these are deaths that can be avoided, simply by being more careful, responsive and responsible.
The situation in Bihar is especially worrisome. The state is statistically, the country’s most flood-prone state. 76 % of the population in Northern Bihar lives under the threat of flood devastation. Out of the total population affected by floods in the country, 22.1% of it resides in Bihar. It is then even more surprising that the state authorities annually fail to tackle the calamity. Due to this inefficiency, the excess rain has managed to disrupt normal life, affecting rail traffic, healthcare facilities and leading to the death of hundreds.
Sadly, excess flooding has become a recurring theme for the whole country this year. While Karnataka and Maharashtra were the most severely affected states, other regions of the country faced similar problems as well. As many as 13 states were affected by the calamity this year. Not only this, the annual monsoon death toll crossed 250 this year, with flooding in various states leading to more than 1 million people being displaced from their homes.
Why are Floods Creating More Havoc This Year
Several reasons have contributed to the excess flooding that the country has seen this year. Excess rainfall, lengthier monsoons, climate change all have contributed to creating havoc across the country. Not only this, lack of preparation for the floods and poor infrastructure also played a role in the rising flood death toll this year.
The effects of climate change can be seen throughout the country this year. Excessive rainfall is the single biggest factor that has contributed to floods in the country. India’s monsoon has overrun by almost a month, and it shows no signs of slowing down. While September is the month the monsoon starts receding, the opposite has happened this time, with the month’s average rainfall being 37% above normal. Not only this, states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat received 36, 30, 22, and 31 per cent more rainfall than normal between June 1 and September 18, 2019. This is the highest among the big states of India.
The following reasons are why the frequency of floods has increased in the country, and why they have created such immense havoc this time.
It is important to note that monsoon also came late this year, and the erratic nature of it has caused widespread destruction. This year’s monsoon, which began with a delayed onset and a 33% rain deficit in June, will officially end on Monday with the country recording the highest rainfall for the four-month period in 25 years. A period of no rain followed by a bout of excessive downpour causes extreme weather events, particularly floods, This ultimately has led to the loss of lives, destruction of homes and agricultural yields as well as huge revenue losses.
Overflowing of rivers is another factor that leads to flooding of the neighbouring regions. The flood situation is considered to be extreme when the water level crosses the highest flood level (HFL) at any forecasting site. In August alone various rivers at 25 stations crossed their HFL levels, according to Central Water Commission (CWC) data. Longer dry spells, combined with more intense rainfall concentrated in fewer days, ultimately leads to heavy inflow in the rivers.
Mismanagement of Dams
Mismanagement of Dams is another alarming issue that inadvertently contributes to floods. Structures that were developed to control the flow of water and prevent a flood-like situation, have actually become triggers for natural calamities. The poor management of dams and lack of coordination between the states and operators is to blame for this.
Most of the dams run dry by the end of the summer. Therefore at the time of rains, the dam operators focus on stocking as much water as possible. In the absence of any operating procedure regarding when and how a dam should be filled and emptied, the operators use their judgement to decide when and how to release water. They don’t work with the IMD officials to figure out rainfall patterns, rather focusing on storing water-fearing little rains.
Thus, this management leads to a situation when water must be released suddenly in large quantities when another round of intense rainfall comes. In addition to this, there is no accountability of officials in charge of maintaining reservoirs in case of dam failure or dam-induced floods Such a situation has caused many a flood in the country, ultimately being caused due to sudden release of dam water and poor regulation of the structures.
Poor Planning and Infrastructure
Faulty flood management and poor implementation have worsened the effect floods have on the country’s resources, leading to widespread loss and destruction. For example, the opening of sluice gates of reservoirs, such as the Bhakra Dam on the Sutlej River in Himachal Pradesh and the Kota Barrage in the Chambal River valley, caused much of the floods in northern India.
Not only this, the reckless urbanization and infrastructural development are putting pressure on our ecosystems which it isn’t able to handle.
In the western Himalayas, for instance, there has been a massive thrust in building infrastructure that has put enormous pressure on the region’s natural environment. Environmentalists and experts have cautioned against the massive road and tunnel-building projects in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The 2013 floods have already been attributed to deforestation, the building of roads that cut through mountains, construction of hydropower projects, and tourism-related construction on floodplains and mountain slopes. More ignorance and focus on construction under the name of development will only increase the frequency of such calamities
Poor planning for disasters is another grave issue. While national disaster relief teams are responding in their own limited way in the relief effort, the response system has been wanting. "We are on the boat as our home has been flooded. We are forced to live on the boat because of the impending situation. No one from the government has visited this area yet," Chhedilal Nishad, a local resident affected by the Uttar Pradesh floods said.
Floods cause widespread death and destruction each year. It leads to loss of life, property and displaces lakhs of people from their homes. While this year has been a particularity tough one, better response planning and preparedness, while at the same time giving due importance to the fight against climate change can go a long way in mitigating the risk caused by the natural calamity.