Needed: Scientific flood management
India’s vulnerability to severe flooding during the monsoon is spectacularly demonstrated year after year, with the season invariably ending in significant loss of life and property. One research study for the period 1978-2006 based on official data reports that there were 2,443 flood events that led to the death of nearly 45,000 people and caused economic losses of $16 billion. The same story is playing out this year too. Residents of five States are currently struggling to cope with the effects of intense rainfall. Many of those lucky to have been rescued owe it to the National Disaster Response Force, but such response systems naturally have limited efficacy in predominantly rural States such as Bihar. What stands out in the annual cycle of floods is the generally tardy pace of preparation for rescue and relief. Capacity-building to handle catastrophic weather events is poor, and serious attention is not given to setting up relief camps, creating crisis-proof health infrastructure and stockpiling dry rations and medicines. The collapse of systems in acute conditions is undoubtedly a reflection of the lack of robust regular services that could be upgraded for emergencies. This is particularly true of health facilities in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. There are cascading outcomes of infections and the absence of care for pregnant women. These challenges require to be met in emergency mode.
An integrated approach to managing floods requires a sound understanding of the patterns that rivers such as the Ganga and its tributaries display during the monsoon. Governmental understanding of the problem generally relies not so much on advanced techniques such as mapping based on satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems, but on ground-level surveys and anecdotal reporting. In Bihar’s case, the shifting patterns and breaches of the Kosi have added to the complexity of the problem, which requires a deeper understanding of the areas most at risk — which is essential in creating a defensive infrastructure. The Kosi itself poses a danger to vast parts of the State as its embankments are no match for the fury of floodwaters. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s demand that the Farakka Barrage itself be removed to allow the Ganga to flow freely comes in the wake of steady silting of the river and its tributaries, raising the risk of annual flooding. These are not new problems and the quest for solutions such as dams, relief canals and barrages dates back more than a century along the Kosi’s course. The impoverishing annual losses should lead to a more integrated view of the problem, drawing upon technologies to both mitigate flooding and provide rescue and relief.
English Vocab from “The Hindu” – 23 Aug