Taming the floods

AuthorPublished: 2nd Oct 2019  12:00 amUpdated: 1st Oct 2019  7:19 pm

The flood fury in several states, after prolonged dry spells, comes as a grim reminder of the inescapable consequences of the climate change and the worsening urban infrastructure. Most parts of Bihar are now submerged, Uttar Pradesh is reeling under heavy floods while several states are battered by torrential rains. As a whole in the current monsoon season, the country has recorded highest rainfall in 25 years. The extreme weather conditions where long dry spells are followed by intense rainfall concentrated over fewer days are becoming the norm now. Much of the tragedy is man-made and can be attributed to the unplanned urbanisation and unchecked deforestation with utter disregard for the environment. The flooding in cities exposes the near-collapse of the urban infrastructure and the failure of the authorities to learn lessons from the past and improve storm water drainage system. The devastation suffered by Kerala for the second year in a row stands to testimony to the callousness of the urban policy makers in taking corrective measures. Located in a fragile ecological zone of the Western Ghats, Kerala, which receives highest monsoon rainfall, is particularly vulnerable to the rain-related damages. Last year, it suffered worst devastation in a century. Again, the state bore the brunt of heavy rains this year, crippling its economy. Instead of nurturing the biodiversity of the region, the successive governments have been recklessly tinkering with its fragile ecology and allowing constructions in the name of development and tourism projects. The repeated warnings by environmentalists about impending dangers have fallen on deaf ears over decades.

The problem of flooding in urban India is largely due to inadequate urban planning and scant attention to protection of the natural water bodies which provide crucial services like groundwater recharge and flood management. Unfortunately, the water bodies are rarely recorded under municipal laws and a vast majority of them have been vanishing at a rapid pace. There is a need for conducting a nationwide survey of the water bodies which can serve as an insurance against floods. The central government must incentivise the States which take up such an initiative. It is time all the stakeholders — governments, private sector and civil society— to wake up to the emerging threats caused by extreme weather events and make joint efforts to check environmental degradation. The number of floods in India rose to 90 in the 10-year period between 2006 and 2015, up from 67 in the decade 1996-2005, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. The death toll has risen from 13,660 to 15,860 in this period. One of the key reasons for floods wreaking havoc is that the swollen rivers, following heavy rainfall, do not find adequate diversionary channels.