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The Problem of Floods in India
Sep 02, 2017

[GS Paper III: (Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, EIA, Disaster and Disaster Management)]

The India Meteorological Department’s first long-range forecast in April 2017 predicted a “normal” monsoon. The department reiterated this forecast in early June as well. But the monsoon this year has been all about inordinate rainfall. 

  • Parts of Assam, Bihar and Gujarat are submerged in historic levels of floodwater. Mumbai was lashed by 315 mm of rainfall — its worst deluge since the catastrophic floods of July 26, 2005. Before that, Bengaluru experienced its heaviest downpour in 120 years.
  • Mount Abu, for example, got over half its annual rainfall in two days. Bengaluru got about 30 per cent of its monsoon rainfall on one day. Chandigarh received nearly 15 per cent of its annual rainfall in a few hours in the third week of August.
  • The weather patterns during the rainy season raise questions about our understanding of the monsoon, as well as about the ways in which we prepare for and deal with floods.

Floods in India

  • In India, the northern and eastern regions are particularly prone to floods.
  • The major flood-prone areas in India are the basins of the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, and the Meghna in the Indo-Gangetic-Brahmaputra plains in north and north-eastern India. It is spread over 15 states where 47% of Indians live.
  • In the north-west, the flood-prone areas are basins of west-flowing rivers such as the Narmada and the Tapi.
  • In the Deccan plateau region, the flood-prone areas are basins of east-flowing rivers such as the Mahanadi, the Krishna, the Godavari, and the Kaveri.
  • The flood season in India is the wet monsoon between June and September. And since 75% of the annual rainfall happens in those months, a lot of water is discharged in the rivers and leads to widespread floods.

Way forward

  • Climate scientists have been issuing warnings about such extreme rainfall for more than a decade. A 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report had pointed out that the indiscriminate destruction of wetlands — sponges that soak up excess rainfall — has compromised the Mumbai city’s capacity to deal with floods. That holds true for Bengaluru, Guwahati, and several other cities of the country.
  • There has been little inclination to place the restoration of wetlands at the centre of flood control programmes. Flood governance would involve reducing vulnerability, increasing access to services and maximizing productivity through optimal use of available resources. 
  • Flood governance in the country has not gone beyond ad hoc relief measures and building embankments. The floods in Assam and Bihar this year have shown — for the umpteenth time — that embankments are no bulwarks against the raging rivers. Focus must shift from relief measures to resilience building in flood prone areas. 

Floods 

  • A flood occurs when water flows or rises above its normal course or place, and the dangers caused by floods are known as flood hazards.
  • The most common kind of flood, when a river overflows its banks, is called a riverine flood.
  • The amount of water that a river can hold before a flood starts is known as its channel capacity.

Causes of Floods

  • Floods can be caused by strong tides, storms at sea, cyclones, and tsunamis.
  • In coastal plains, damage from floods is more due to sediment deposition or silting of a river and strong tides from the sea.
  • Blocking of river banks due to landslides, the courses of the rivers being narrow, or changes in the courses of rivers can all cause floods.
  • Unplanned solid waste dumping, disregard for the recharge structures like lakes, tanks, ponds and other wetlands in the city, tampering the natural course of water are some of the manmade factors behind floods.

Impact of Flooding

  • Flooding is one of the most destructive natural disasters, and causes heavy economic losses and loss of human life.
  • Floods are an annual feature in many parts of India, and flooded areas often get isolated from the rest of the country.
  • Economically and socially backward communities are most affected by floods because they take longer to recover from their effects.
  • Floods revive the ground water, renew the wetlands, replenish the nutrients in topsoil, recover the natural fish stock and help in maintaining the landmass elevation above sea level. 


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