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Flood crisis in India: A call for better flood management

In India, monsoons are said to be auspicious, as it soothes us from the scorching summer heat, revives our wells, ponds and replenishes the river. But the gray side is the flooding of Assam, Bihar, Mumbai every year. Flood like any other natural disaster brings enormous loss to property and life. The government spends a hefty amount to restore the flood-affected places. Every year agriculture and infrastructure collapse due to floods in Assam and Bihar. Every year on an average 60 people dies due to floods. You might get upset to know flood kills more one-horned Rhinos than poaching in Kaziranga National Park. Though floods are necessary for Kaziranga National Park since it is grassland but this year 225 animals ( 178 Hog Dears, 15 Rhinos, 4 elephants, and 1 Tiger) are dead because 95% of the National Park is submerged into water.

Why do Assam, Bihar, and Mumbai flood every single year?

 

The geographical terrain of Assam makes it very susceptible to flooding, surrounded by Middle Himalayas, Purvanchal Ranges, Assam is the low lying plain Area. Now when Brahmaputra River flows from Tibet (4km above sea level) and reaches the Dibrugarh district of Assam (108 meters above sea level), the intensity of the river is very high. It has 5 tributaries rivers Subansiri, Kameng, Beki, Manas, Gadadhar/ Sankosh rivers creating a network of rivers in Assam. Moreover, all these 5 rivers are flowing way above their danger marks.  Heavy rainfalls in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam also trigger the condition of flooding in Assam.

rivers in bihar

The northern Bihar floods almost every year. The Gandaki, Bagmati, Kamla, Kosi, Mahananda River are the rivers flowing over its danger levels. The tectonic plate movements also disturb the flow of the Kosi River making it very unstable. Northern Bihar is a low lying area, so the river from Nepal rushes towards it. And heavy monsoons further worsen the conditions.

Mumbai floods every year because of its disastrous drainage system. It’s ironic how this city suffers water scarcity in the summer months and floods in monsoon months. The main reason is the concretization of ponds and marshes in Mumbai. The concretization overburdens the drainage system. Mumbai’s drainage system is designed to flush the rainwater into the sea; but during high tides, seawater enters the city ruthlessly.

Impacts of flood in India

As we all know damage caused by a flood depends upon its severity. Stupendous floods cause life loss along with reckless damage to infrastructure-  bridges, power- plants, industries, buildings, roads, railway lines, etc causing a complete halt to economic activities. People are forced to disown their houses and live in relief camps.  This causes a major disruption in their normal life. Affecting the mental conditions of almost all survivors. The risk of waterborne diseases like cholera, malaria increase.

When a flood hits an agricultural production area, it destroys crops and fencing. Loss of livestock is also prevalent. Waterlogged soil and delay in harvesting, escalated by transportation problems, brings misery to the life of farmers. The price of crops also rises in local markets.

Flooding of urban areas causes notable damage to private properties, buildings, and businesses. Small scale businesses are most affected. Insurance of property and its content can help cut down the loss.

What to do if you are in a flood-hit area? 

If you are in a flood-affected area. Value life over property. Help your neighbors and don’t leave your pets to die also stay calm and follow the necessary steps:

  1. Keep your essential documents in sealed plastic pouches and put them on an elevated shelf.  Also, keep all the toxic substances as high as you can.
  2. Keep your first aid kit and flood kit handy.
  3. Close all the doors and try to seal any spaces as much as you can with clothes.
  4. Close and seal the window panes with adhesive tapes. 
  5. Turn off the gas and electricity supply at the mains.
  6. Move to the upper floors.
  7. Cars are not a safe place during floods, so leave the car and hurry to an elevated space.
  8. Stay away from fallen electric poles and rivers, if you are outside.
  9. Don’t cross a flood area by foot or car.
  10. In case you are floating with the stream, float on your back with your head towards the streams. Always go over the obstructions instead of going under.

Measures for a good flood management system

Every problem has a short term solution requiring less finance and effort and a long term solution where planning, financing, implementing, and perfection are crucial. To the flood fury in India, there are some temporary solutions that can help control the situation to an extent.

Reforestation:

planting plants

Trees help rainwater seep into the soil. The tree roots help create a porous network beneath the soil. So whenever rain falls on the soil, it is absorbed/drained by the porous network of soil. Plant roots also help in binding the soil particle together, therefore reducing the chances of landslides and soil erosion. It also helps in preventing the deposition of silts on the river bed. A study shows after 25 years of forestations the level of floodwater can be reduced to 20%.

Avoiding infrastructure on the flood plains:

densely populated flood plain

One of the most important reasons for property loss is improper construction of buildings. Contractors should keep in mind the entire river basin. The construction of any building should be avoided in floodplains. Floodplain is the area between banks of rivers and outer edges of a valley. Buildings in flood-prone areas should be constructed with proper flood management systems. According to a study, only 7% of Indian dams are equipped to handle floods. Now you can think of the havoc a breached dam can cause.

Removing embankments

breached embankments

Some people may think embankments are the key solutions to control floods. But no, an embankment can worsen the situation. Embankments restrict the free flow of a river but the river starts flowing at higher speed, the water level also rises. For instance, Dibrugarh is protected by an embankment but this embankment ends near Patra Gaon and this district faces double problems. But instead of completely removing an embankment we can construct embankments by leaving a wide area along the riverbanks. This will give more space for the river to flow and slow down its speed.

Now coming to the long term future plan which will require a huge amount of planning, money, labor, and of course perfection. Netherlands and Japan have come forward and executed their methods to protect their country from repeated annual floodings.

Room for River project by the Netherlands

The Netherlands, it has reclaimed its area under the ocean. About 20% of the land is below sea level. And this country has excelled in its system to control floods.  The most popular “room for river” project. The following steps were taken by the Netherlands to create room for rivers.

Japan’s underground flood defense system

Tunnels

Just like the Netherlands, an initiative of Japan to save its capital city Tokyo from flooding are exemplary. They have created an underground system to collect and deviate the floodwater toward the Tokyo Bay.  Five giant underground cylindrical vessels (70-meter height, 30-meter diameter) take in stormwater from 4 rivers North of Tokyo. A network of tunnels connects the cylinders to a vast tank, larger than a football field, with ceilings held up by 60-foot pillars that give the space a temple-like feel. From that tank, industrial pumps discharge the floodwater at a controlled pace into the Edo river, a larger river system that flushes the water into Tokyo Bay.

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