That sinking feeling

The eagerly awaited monsoons are increasingly becoming a cause for massive loss of lives and destruction

By Author  |  With Inputs From Agencies  |  Published: 3rd Sep 2017  1:32 am
sinking feeling

April isn’t the cruellest month these days. In many parts of India, it’s turning out to be August with heavy rains and floods wreaking havoc and misery. Over 700 people have lost lives and over 30 million have been affected across India. Swathes of greenery, trees, telephone and electricity networks, roads and bridges have been washed away or severely damaged. Dams have been opened and water has swallowed agrarian lands.

It is ironic that the monsoons, which account for around 70 per cent of the country’s rainfall and on which our agriculture is dependent, are also the cause for such massive destruction. A UN report puts India’s loss due to floods every year at $7 billion. Yet we make no effort to prevent this yearly catastrophe. This year’s monsoon has been particularly harsh on almost all parts of the country.

Mayhem in Maximum City

On August 29, the Maximum City, Mumbai, recorded the maximum rainfall in 12 years — almost 30 cm in some locations. The rain last Tuesday, 30 times the average, constitutes an eighth of Mumbai’s annual 225 cm average rainfall, in just one day.

The rains brought the nation’s financial capital to a standstill, with many areas under water. The flooded tracks meant the lifeline of the city — local trains — didn’t move and children had to sleep in schools. Even the Mumbai airport suspended operations due to low visibility. Thousands waded through waist-deep water, abandoning cars to walk. At least 14 people lost their lives.

The last time such heavy rains lashed the city was on July 26, 2005. The flooding then had killed over 1,000 people across Maharashtra. While the city received 994 mm rain in 2005, this time around it was 290 mm. After 12 years, the city still could not efficiently manage even one-third of the rains received then.

Done in 3 Hours

Even India’s first planned city, Chandigarh, could not escape nature’s fury when on August 21 it was hit by heaviest rains in 16 years. All it needed to bring down the city was 115 mm of downpour in three hours.

The rains exposed the lacunae in planning and upgradation of the drainage system, whose capacity is just not enough to take the load of the growing tricity.

Bihar Under Water

Bihar saw the worst floods since 2008. Latest figures state that 514 people had died and over 1.38 lakh are staying in 115 relief camps. The floods affected 1.71 crore people across 19 of its 38 districts.

On August 27, Prime Minister Modi conducted an aerial survey of the four worst flood-hit districts of Araria, Kisanganj, Katihar and Purnea and announced Rs 500 crore fund for relief work.

Rains lash Gujarat

Severe monsoon flooding killed around 218 people in Gujarat, while nearly 130,000 people have been relocated to safer places. Banaskantha district was the worst affected.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani called it ‘the worst flood of the century’. Meteorologists attributed it to low-pressure developing simultaneously over the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea.

Rajasthan Ravaged

In Rajasthan, Mount Abu recorded the highest-ever rainfall of 77 cm in 24 hours on July 23. The State Disaster Management and Relief Department had to declare a red alert in Jalore, Barmer, Pali and Jodhpur districts. As on July 26, about 15 people were killed, 640 were rescued and 2,225 evacuated to safer places. 

Assam Again

The latest floods in Assam have killed 158 people and affected over 1.02 lakh people. The most affected districts are Chirang, Morigaon, Nagaon and Golaghat, where 137 villages were badly hit.

According to an Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) report, Morigaon is the worst-affected with more than 55,500 hit, followed by Nagaon with nearly 43,000 people affected in the deluge. Currently, 288 villages and 12,000 hectares of crop area are still inundated, the ASDMA said, adding the authorities are running 70 relief camps and distribution centres across five districts, where 21,049 people are taking shelter.

Hundreds of wild animals, including seven rhinoceroses, were killed in flooding in the Kaziranaga National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary because of the flood.

Nightmare in North Bengal, Odisha

Floods have taken at least 90 lives in northern parts of West Bengal. Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Malda, Alipurduar, South Dinajpur and North Dinajpur districts have borne the brunt.

Close to 1.5 crore people have been hit. The State has set up 776 relief camps in the six affected districts, where 2,08,513 people had taken shelter. Train services beyond Malda were suspended for more than seven days and the State lost an estimated Rs 14,000 crore in the deluge.

In Odisha, many villages of Rayagada, Kalahandi, Jajpur, Kendrapara and Malkangiri districts were cut off due to floods in July. Train services were disrupted for more than ten days and the Army and Air Force had to be called in for rescue operations.

Floods kill thousands of people every year in India. In fact, over 113 million people in India – nearly 10% of the population – remain exposed to the hazard of floods. While the knee-jerk reactions, announcements of ex gratia and other disaster recovery measures continue, the key issue is our poor preparedness and lack of forward thinking, in spite of these floods being a regular feature in many States of the country.

Neighbours hit too

Apart from India, monsoon rains have taken a toll on Pakistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan too. Floods have left two-thirds of Bangladesh under water and Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city, didn’t escape flood fury either with at least eight citizens losing their lives. Aid workers say that severe flooding across South Asia has caused at least 1,200 deaths this monsoon.

On August 24, the United Nations said that around 41 million people have been affected by flooding and landslides due to the monsoon across the subcontinent. The UN described the devastating situation in Nepal, where 150 people have died, as the worst flooding the country has seen in a decade.

In Bangladesh, “more than 600,000 hectares (nearly 1,500,000 acres) of farmland have been partially damaged and in excess of 10,000 hectares (nearly 25,000 acres) have been completely washed away,” reported the Independent.