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Spotlight: India’s perennial (manmade) flood problem

India is presently in a strange situation–there’s an unrelenting drought in some parts of the country, while rain has inundated other parts, leading to loss of life and property. Like our droughts, our floods too are often manmade, critics say–a product of official incompetence, ignorance and apathy. These examples from across the country show they may have a point.

Flawed embankment strategy converts Bihar into a watery grave
Dinesh Mishra, India Water Portal
The shortcoming of the embanking technology was known to the planners since the early British period. Their planners burnt their fingers initially in attempts to make money in protecting people from floods and charged taxes. They thought that like drought prone areas, people will demand irrigation once the flood control measures succeed and the fields are deprived of floods and fertilizing silt. They failed miserably as the embankments along the rivers which they relied so heavily on to protect people from floods did just the reverse. The British planners shunned the idea of embanking in 1872 and never resorted to it till they left the country in 1947. They however, never prevented anyone from constructing these structures at their own peril and using own resources. After independence, the policy was reversed and massive embanking of rivers started.

With incomplete details of water bodies, Chennai’s master plan is a recipe for yet another disaster
Vinita Govindarajan, Scroll.in
The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority’s plan, prepared in 2008, is a blueprint for the city’s development till 2026. It chalks out the land use for the entire city – which areas can be used for industrial development, as institutions, residential complexes, agriculture, water bodies and so on. Accordingly, licences for construction are provided by the government authorities. In fact, nearly 90% of the area reserved for Special and Hazardous Industries by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority in Ennore Creek reportedly constitutes salt pans, fish farms and tidal water bodies that fall under Coastal Regulation Zones. These wetlands are crucial as they are natural sponges that prevent flooding by soaking up surface water, rain water and floodwaters, apart from hosting a diverse ecosystem. (Related: The story of Irumbuliyur Lake explains the sudden floods in Chennai)

Was Not Sudden Flood In Subarnrekha Jharkhand Avoidable?
Considering all the facts, it is clear that the Chandil Dam Authorities could have avoided releasing so much water in already flooded Subernrekha river thus avoiding or reducing flood impacts in downstream areas. Due to wrong water release decision of Chandil Dam Authority thousands of local people in Jamshepur (Jharkhand), Chormundi (West Bengal) and Mayurbhaj and Balasore districts (Odisha) have been put in difficult situation. Lack of communication from the dam authorities and from Jharkhand to neighboring downstream states and people further added to avoidable disaster situation. It is not for the first time that wrong operation of a dams have created avoidable flood impacts in the downstream area.

Fighting floods: India needs to emphasise disaster prevention, not disaster management
Peter Smetacek, Scroll.in
Unlike many countries in the neighbourhood, India possesses a number of perennial rivers that drain the subcontinent. Of particular interest is the fact that most of these rivers begin and end within India, making us secure in the matter of potential interference with the supply, but also placing squarely on us the responsibility of keeping these rivers healthy. But the increasing floods and drought each year remind us that we have failed miserably in that responsibility. Where did we go wrong? Or, rather, where are we going wrong? In order to understand this, we need to see rivers not in isolation, but as part of a climatic system.

A city grows food on the fringes & flood proofs itself
Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG)
Was there a way to ensure local food supply, as well as maintain open areas to serve as flood buffers? The Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) definitely thought so. They devised a simple strategy: Strengthen livelihoods based on periurban agriculture. The aim was twofold: Reduce risks & vulnerabilities of the poor dependent on peri urban agriculture and also that of the city’s population affected by flooding. Farming at the city outskirts keeps areas that are vulnerable to flooding free from construction, and also ensures that the lands maintain their natural function of enhancing water storage and infiltration, thus reducing run off. Thus the capacity of the urban poor to cope with flood impact improves, as does their available sources of food & income.

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