Flood Management: Need of New Approach To Save Environment

Rajesh Deoliya


The states of Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India are highly vulnerable to flood, year after year, the extent of flood and associated damage is alarming and need attention from the state and central government to formulate a fresh, short and long term comprehensive policy with objective of mitigation of severity of flood and also reducing the damage permanently. The floods occur in other states too but severity compare to Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is lesser. The disastrous situation certainly warrants the expert services of disaster managers of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and their state counterparts, but much more is the need of hour. The services offered by these agency are limited to relief measures only and other agencies should also be involved.

The 71th report of Standing Committee on Finance (2018-19) described the cataclysmic flood and assessed that over 40 million hectares land amounting to about 12% land extent of the country is prone to flood and river erosion. The flood prone regions of India belong to the Himalayan Rivers Basin (Brahmputra, Kosi and Damodar Rivers in particular), the North Western River Basin (Jhelum, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas Rivers) and the central and Peninsular River Basin (Narmada, Chambal, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery River) (source-Annual Report 2017-18, Central Water Commission http:// www. cwc.gov.in/reports-published-cwc). The reconciliation of flood data from this report indicate that in year 2017 country faced severe to extreme flood situation in large tract of country, matching to the previous year's experiences, where 14 states faced severe flood. Major flooding occurred in 19 districts of Uttar Pradesh,17 districts of Assam, 14 districts of Bihar, 7 districts of Odisha, 3 districts of west Bengal.  The ongoing monsoon period this year, till so far has been confined to lesser areas than the previous years restricted mainly to Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. still about 25 lakh population is affected by the flood, which by no mean is worth ignoring.   

Flood and Environment:

We often take flood only as natural calamity and event of few days ergo do not perceive it as environmental hazard, therefore flood related planning and approaches are primarily restricted to the relief measures. There is need to change this perception and think flood as environmental hazard then only we can better mitigate the associated danger. The treatment of  the population of flood affected areas just as Project Affected Persons as considered in Environmental Management Plan for project clearances by environment ministries then our approach in dealing flood may be much different and prove better. This can help in raising the living standard of these areas. If we look straight forward, recurring flood defeat some important sustainable development goals like Zero Poverty, Good Health and Well Beings, Climate Action, Life on land, Clean Water and Sanitation. These goal require detail studies with scientific and technology based inference. However, on the basis of available data following effect of flood can be recognized.

2.1 Effect on Human Life:

Flooding has a range of impacts on humans like deaths, injuries, floodwater is often contaminated with sewage, which can lead to illness and affect clean drinking water supply, disruption of power supplies, shut down of  businesses, schools and hospitals, damage to rail and road transport and related infrastructures. The average monthly annual income in ordinary situation is such less in rural areas that one can hardly survive. The calamity is making it further worst. According to latest NSSO and NABARD’s All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS), the average monthly income from cultivation was Rs 3,081 in 2012-13 (NSSO data) and Rs 3,140 in 2016-17 (NABARD data). If adjusted for inflation, there has been a decline. ( source https://www. newindianexpress.com /opinions/2020 /apr /20/ rural-income-growth-key-to-reviving-economy-2132540.html). In such poor earnings the population affected by flood left with nothing for survival except to remain poor and on mercy of relief measures for survival. They do not have enough money to repair their  damage houses and household. Under such circumstances their economic upliftment is impossible.

2.2 Loss of soil regime:

Soil is valuable resource bestowed by nature to us, it is house for many biotic flora and fauna many of them are microscopic and essential for soil fertility. The soil is also a resource to meet agricultural, horticultural and vegetative demands.  The recurring flood due to landslides and erosion, carries a load of unsorted sand and clayey material ranging from coarse to fine in nature and spread over the ground surface. This act does not allow the soils to settle and interrupt pedogenic reaction for long term fertility, a soil, in the flood zones is always young and unstable. A soil to be fertile requires settled conditions and process depending upon parent rock, biota, topography, climate and time. This way we lose fertile land.

2.3 Effect on water regime: 

Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh have shallow ground water level due to sandy loamy, alluvial soil which allow good percolation of flood water below surface. However, the surface in most part of these areas have thin capping of clayey and silty soils which forms thin impermeable coating over surface and do not  allow downward flow of flood water. The surface water reach to the ground water in such situation from the weak surfaces, litho unit contact zones, boulder or coarse strata and also through the existing tube wells serving as recharge well.  Due to this phenomena, in general the ground water level in flood affected areas is found to be shallow. The water level in flood plains of Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh can be intersected at about 2 to 5 meter depth from surface. The shallow nature of ground water has made the tube wells as major source of irrigation. But there is strong possibility of contamination of ground water. The shallow acqufer receive contaminants from sewage and other waste material. The detail studies may reveal that this is one of several reasons for poor health and immunity among the population in these areas. An intensive drive is needed to develop understanding to the possible water contamination and further to develop a mechanism to address it. The use of water from shallow aquifer for drinking purpose can be avoided. However, the upper zone (shallow depth) water for irrigation has to be used for irrigation because if water is not discharged it may cause permanent water logging in future and make the situation further worse.

2.4 Effect on land regime:

The flood affects about 40 million hectare area which is about 12 percent of the total land mass of country maximum of which is confined in the states of Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The submergence of this vast land under water has to be matter of great concern. Though the flood remains active for two to three days but it makes the land inaccessible for cultivation and other uses for many days. This unutilized land makes the adverse effect on the livelihood of local population on one hand and also heavily erode the existing valuable fertile soil making it unsuitable for agriculture.

2.5 Effect on human settlements:

According to the data published by NDMA in National Disaster Management Guidelines-Management of Floods, from the year 1953 to 2005 inclusive, 6,45,49,660 houses had been damaged by floods averaging about 12,18,000 houses lost per year, the maximum number of houses lost in one year (1978) was 35,07,540. The number of people who lost their lives during floods has been 84,207 with an average of 1588 persons per year, the maximum in any one year (1977) being 11,316. Most of the lives lost were due to drowning of people due to the collapse of their shelters which also results in the displacement of the people from their habitations for considerable length of time, putting a huge burden on the relief machinery of the States to take care of their temporary sheltering and feeding requirements. It is necessary that systematic Rehabilitation and Resettlement schemes of permanent nature should be made to reduce relief work in future.

2.6 Effect on wildlife and bio diversity:

Flood also affect wild life and bio diversity in forest areas. In Assam the Kaziranga park is good example of how flood affect the wild life. This year most of the area ( to the extent of 85 percent)  is under water and animals have little space to rest. The recent flood has taken life of about 100 wild animals, including at least eight rare rhinos. Taking a lesson from this it would be sensible that the park authorities at different places will construct high lands where animals can rest.

( Rhino's struggle for survival in flood in Kaziranga Park)

2.7 Shifting of River Channel:

The rivers like Brahmputra and Kosi originating in Himalaya region and meeting the plains in Bihar and Assam bring huge mass of sediment during flood and deposit these sediments to serve as barrier to the next influx of flood forcing the river the change the course. This has resulted into the vast alluvial fans and loss of land for human activities.  The river course changing frequently and its width is also increasing. This has resulted into the loss of valuable land and also put human settlement in danger.

3.0 The conclusion:

Our flood mitigation measures have not proved successful so far. There is paucity of data to properly evaluate the damage and recovery. It is time to formulate a well-defined nationwide uniform flood damage and relief data collection system, considering all the parameters in line with the baseline data of environmental studies and then assess them on year to year basis.  It will help in calculating the cost and benefit of relief measures which at present are of temporary in nature and time specific. This will prevent wastage of financial resources. Such data will also help in planning and implementation of focused long term permanent measures further to chalk out site specific Resettlement and Rehabilitation work to shift the frequently affected human settlements to new and higher place, construct pucca houses with raised plinth, adopt methods of channelizing the course of river in such a way that large area is available for use and the water level in the channels can be used by water way. Though it may sound costly but a phased manner exercise will make these flood plains usable and bring piece in the life of these flood affected areas.



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Madan Prakash said…
Unless and until, proper planning and it’s effective implementation is not done, same situation will be seen again and again.
Anonymous said…
I thought some solutions were being offered as food for thought. Dissaoafter so much reading!All this is more or less kntor can be surmise d by many

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