Millions suffer floods fury in India

Extreme weather events a common pattern in India now

Business

July 19, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

A submerged village in flood-affected Assam

A submerged village in flood-affected Assam

More than three million people have been displaced across the northern and north-eastern India because of monsoon that has not only destroyed homes but cost the lives of many.

India is going through a testing time facing two stark issues at the same time but in different regions. On the one hand where some of the states are facing drought and many people struggling to get even a bucket of water, some other states in India are badly affected through flood. The worst affected are parts of north-east and north India, where life has been brought to a standstill, notably in Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These states have been badly affected by floods, caused by torrential rainfall.

A total of 100 people have died and over six million impacted by the floods, which have also forced hundreds of animals in national parks and wild life sanctuaries in the region to seek safer areas. Vast areas of Kaziranga and Manas National Parks and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary have been submerged, resulting in the death of a rhino at Kaziranga and forcing other wild animals, including deer and buffaloes to move towards the highlands in Karbi Anglong Hills.

The floods in these regions come barely a fortnight after five days of almost continuous and heavy rain submerged vast parts of Mumbai and its suburbs, paralysing the country’s commercial capital with a total disruption of air, road and rail traffic. Around 30 people had been killed in separate incidents of wall collapse around the city at the time. Nearly 3000 km away from Assam and other north-eastern states, a red alert has also been sounded in the southern state of Kerala.

Though the impact and the level of floods may vary, India’s northern and north-eastern parts have long been prone to deadly floods each year during the monsoons that last from June to September. And almost every year, India’s largest rivers, Brahmaputra and Ganga, as well as their tributaries get flooded, submerging more or less the same areas in the country.

While north and the north-eastern India try to stay afloat, the scenario is just the opposite and equally dramatic in other parts of the country. Southern cities of Chennai, Hyderabad and Secunderabad are running dry one after the other, due to light or no showers at all. According to Niti Aayog, a government think tank, in 2018, 600 million Indians were exposed to acute water crisis and in 2017 south Indian states like Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana faced water shortages.

A result of climate change

According to the ‘Climate change and India: A 4 X 4 assessment-a sectoral and regional analysis for 2030s’ report by the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), rise in temperatures would increase flood events in frequency towards the end of the century (2071-2100). Uncertain weather patterns have led to a worrying trend of no rain for long periods and then a sudden bout of excessive rainfall, causing extreme weather events, particularly floods which took lives, destroyed homes and agricultural yields as well as resulted in huge revenue losses.

Global warming is expected to lead to rise in temperatures in the Himalayan region by 2.6 degrees Celsius within a decade coupled with increase in intensity of rainfall by 2-12 pc. This will result in increased flash floods events leading to large scale landslides and loss of agriculture area affecting food security, states the report.

Despite the floods, the 2019 monsoon has been recorded as the slowest progressing in at least 12 years, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). The IMD recorded a rainfall deficit of 21 pc till July 7, this year while June had seen the second-lowest rainfall in the past seven years, after the 42 pc deficit in 2014. Moreover, 20 states in the country witnessed deficient rainfall, while three were in ‘large deficient’ category from June 1 to July 7 this year.  At the same time, IMD has also predicted of worsening flood situation and heavy showers across the north eastern regions that includes Assam and Meghalaya.

Since the monsoons are crucial for agriculture, as over 60 pc of the farmers cultivate in areas that are rain fed, the low rainfall over the central, western and southern parts of the country, has raised concerns over the progress of crop plantings and the subsequent economic outfall as farming contributes to over a sixth of the GDP and is directly or indirectly the principal source of livelihood for over half of the country’s 1.3 billion people. Poor rains as well as devastating floods have immediate impact on rural incomes and lead to a drop in the overall economic growth.

Need man made measures

The new India is both desiccated and flooded and trying to figure out measures to overcome the calamity. In order to ease the water woes in the country, the Indian government has formed the new Jal Shakti (water power) ministry to tackle water issues and has laid out an ambitious plan to provide piped water connection to every rural household by 2024. However, people are still finding themselves in the grip of a deepening water crisis.

Several urban cities are promoting integrated urban water management strategies. Udaipur, a city in the western Indian state of Rajasthan which receives low rainfall, has shown an excellent work of water conservation and management. Also, government programmes such as the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation have already considered some of these ideas to augment and manage water supply. The government also needs to budget the availability of water resource and promote sustainable urban and industrial development.

Just like drought, floods in India also needs immediate attention from the government. The government needs to improve its flood forecasting capability and also develop proper drainage facilities in order to minimise loss of lives and property. Experts have also advised on construction of proper embankments on river banks to keep floods in check.

It is high time that the government should take lessons from this crisis and the administration should start working on man-made measures in order to avoid nature’s calamity.

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