FLAME in the news

Flood policies that do not wash away | December 15, 2021

A long-term disaster management policy is essential for minimising the impact of floods in terms of loss of both human and physical capital

In the past few months, the country has faced various natural disasters such as cyclones and floods coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic. On the one hand, where the Government of India is striving to curb the spread of Covid-19 infection and revive the economic activity, natural disasters such as cyclones and floods, on the other hand, are adding to the fiscal burden of the government while also posing severe health hazards to the population.Recently, post-monsoon floods in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and other southern states have wreaked havoc on human life and property, which has become a persistent problem in the states.

Nearly after six years, heavy rains led by the north-eastern monsoon have hit the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, causing disastrous floods and claiming 18 lives across the state as per the local officials. At the same time, several parts of Andhra Pradesh have been hammered by heavy rainfall and flooding, resulting in loss of property, including crops, and causing 34 deaths. As per the preliminary reports from affected districts, the flooding with heavy rain has caused damage to nearly 1500 houses, and the estimated crop loss is to be around Rs. 3000 crore spreading over 8 lakh hectares of agricultural and horticulture crops across the state of Andhra Pradesh forcing about 58,000 people to evacuate.

According to a Central Water Commission (CWC) report, floods in Tamil Nadu have cost the state around Rs 27,326 crores between 1953 and 2017. Of this, the damage to public infrastructure stood at Rs 24,061 crores, followed by crop damage of Rs 3,120 crore and houses at Rs 145 crores. During this period, 3,705 people were killed, 56 million people were affected, 2.32-million-hectare crop areas were devastated, and 5.49 million houses were damaged. Every year, the loss to Tamil Nadu due to floods is around Rs 635 crores, and the state witnesses 81 deaths with a crop loss of Rs 94.54 crore.

Natural disasters such as floods, drought, lightning, cyclone, hailstorms, and landslides are recurring phenomena in Tamil Nadu. Due to its unique geo-climatic conditions, the state is highly vulnerable to various natural disasters due to its unique geo-climatic conditions and has witnessed a rise in natural disaster frequencies, damages, and fatalities. Moreover, a high degree of socioeconomic vulnerability, inadequate mitigation measures, rapid urbanization, and high dependency on the agricultural sector have further accentuated the damages caused due to natural disasters. Apart from natural factors like incessant and heavy rainfall during the monsoon, man-made factors have also contributed to increased damage due to floods in Tamil Nadu and across the county. Unplanned development, encroachments into riparian zones, failure of flood control systems, poor drainage facilities, deforestation, and unplanned reservoir operations are worsening flood damages. As a result, urban floods could be manifested as a man-made tragedy.

The capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai has experienced catastrophic floods in 1943, 1976, 1985, 1998, 2002, 2005, and 2015 due to heavy rains associated with the cyclonic activity. The 2015 South India floods resulted from heavy rainfall generated by the annual northeast monsoon in November-December 2015 that affected the Coromandel Coast region of the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. As per the CWC report, the December 2015 floods in the city and its suburban areas claimed 421 lives and affected 3.04 million populations. Moreover, 0.38 million hectares of crop were devastated, and 3.01 million houses were damaged, leading to total damage of Rs 25,913 crore. It caused massive damage to public and private property and brought the city to a standstill for several days.

Apart from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, floods also adversely affect other states in India. Based on damages of public and private properties and population affected and killed, India is the second most flood-affected nation of the world after China (Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT)). According to the CWC report, 107 535 people were killed due to floods, and 2,088 million people were affected over the period 1953-2017. During this period, damage due to floods, including crops, houses, and public infrastructure, stood Rs 3,78,247 crores, damage to crop Rs 1,11,225 crores, damage to public infrastructure 2,12,060 crores and damage to house Rs 53,774 crores. In addition, every year, the country lost around 0.46% of GDP due to floods and damage to crops around 0.18% of GDP (Parida et al., 2021). Flood impact also increases fiscal pressure of the state Government through government disaster management activities.

Moreover, frequent floods adversely affect the employment opportunities in the rural agricultural sector, increasing poverty, rural inequality, and food shortage due to crop damage and income loss. Similarly, urban flooding has become a common threat for city residents due to poor town planning and a lack of investment in infrastructure. Rapid urbanization, arbitrary encroachment of waterways in cities and towns, poor drainage facilities, and illegal constructions have led to growing urban flooding. Besides this, poor waste management is annoying the hassle through blockading drains and canals while ill-planned road projects are slicing off flood flows.

To mitigate the impact of floods, adequate disaster adaptation measures and better disaster management policies are essential in the flood-prone areas. First, greater spending by district disaster management authority on rehabilitation and evacuation during flood disasters would help to mitigate flood fatalities. Second, improved flood warning systems, particularly in coastal districts, and accurate forecasting of rainfall and floods might allow for timely measures and constrain disaster impacts. Third, pre-flood measures like developing disaster-resilient infrastructures, such as construction and maintenance of river embankment, canals, roads, bridges, river connectivity, and construction of multi-purpose shelters in low-lying areas, may help mitigate flood fatalities.

Finally, as the problem of urban flooding is becoming more severe, and losses are escalating each year, the issue of urban flooding requires exclusive attention with appropriate implementation of the NDMA guidelines on Urban Flooding 2010. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification issued in 1991, subsequently revised in 2011 and 2019, intended to address coastal zone management issues. However, it has not been able to regulate development in coastal areas over the years. Therefore, strict implementation of the CRZ norms in coastal cities is the need of the hour.

Also, the Government should create a massive community awareness campaign regarding the impacts of natural disasters, their causes, and mitigation measures. In addition, Government should also undertake district-wise flood inundation mapping using advanced techniques and ensure better coordination among all departments or agencies in evicting encroachments along with waterways and inside water bodies. Overall, a long-term disaster management policy is essential for minimizing the flood impact in terms of loss of both human and physical capital. The time to effectively implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30 focuses on reducing disaster risk with the state in the primary role and shared responsibility with other stakeholders, including the local government and the private sector. The aim is to protect the development gains from the risk of the disaster.

(Sahoo is an OES officer and teaches Economics at Vikram Deb Autonomous College, Jeypore, Odisha. Parida is an Assistant Professor in Economics at FLAME University, Pune. Goel is an Assistant Professor in Economics at GGS Indraprastha University, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.)