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India needs an integrated approach to flood management

www.dailypioneer.com | August 28, 2023

A long-term flood disaster management strategy must be developed writes Yashobanta Parida, Joyita Roy Chowdhury & Prakash K Sahoo

Heavy rain triggered by the monsoon has devastated many parts of Indian states, causing disastrous floods and landslides. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs report, 332 districts have been affected due to floods and landslides, and 87,457 houses are partially or fully damaged. In addition, 485334 hectares of crop area have been affected, 137134 electric poles and pillars have been damaged, and around 1053 people have died due to floods and landslides in 28 states and three union territories of India. Bihar experienced the highest number of deaths (342), followed by Himachal Pradesh (166), Madhya Pradesh (77), Gujarat (63), Punjab (46), Haryana (36), Maharashtra (35) and Uttarakhand (32) due to floods and landslides. According to the Himachal Pradesh government report, the state has experienced economic losses worth 8,000 crore rupees due to floods and landslides.

Indian states experience different types of natural disasters each year, but floods are the most common calamity in the country. Due to its unique geo-climatic conditions, the country is highly vulnerable to floods, witnessing a rise in frequencies, damages, and fatalities from floods. According to the Central Water Commission report, deaths due to floods increased from 37 in 1953 to 1815 in 2020. In contrast, economic losses measured in terms of damage to crops, houses, and public utilities increased from 52 crores to 21,189 crore rupees.

During this period, on average, 1676 human lives were lost yearly, economic losses were around 6428.6 crore rupee, 1213606 houses were damaged, and 4.05 million hectares of crop area were affected due to floods. The data shows that the current flood management policy is inadequate to minimize flood-related damages and deaths. Other reasons include unprecedented rainfall due to rapid climate change, unplanned urbanization, deforestation, and lack of flood forecasting and warning systems. Moreover, frequent breaching of river embankments due to lack of proper maintenance and deposit of silt on the river beds obstruct natural water flow. In addition, Indian cities are also prone to floods due to encroachment on waterways in cities, illegal constructions, unplanned development, and inadequate waste management, which further aggravate the situation by clogging drains and canals, leading to growing urban flooding.

Immediate impacts of floods lead to the loss of human lives, the destruction of crops, and damage to property and other physical infrastructures. Floods disrupt people's lives and displace thousands who live in slums and low-lying areas. According to the Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID), 2023, published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), around 32.6 million people in the world were displaced in 2022 due to natural disasters, which is 41 per cent higher than the annual average of the past 10 years. Out of this, 31.8 million people were displaced because of weather-related events. Among them, 19.2 million people (60.35 per cent) were displaced by floods. As per the report, India ranked 4th in internal displacements in 2022 due to natural disasters, with 2.4 million people being displaced due to floods.

Frequent floods hurt employment opportunities in the rural agricultural sector, leading to inequality, poverty, and a food crisis. Flood damage also adversely impacts the country's economic development and increases the fiscal pressure on the central and state governments for reconstruction, relief, and rehabilitation activities. Per official statistics, India loses around 0.46 per cent of its gross domestic product annually (Parida et al., 2020).

Moreover, poor town planning, unauthorized and illegal construction, and inadequate urban infrastructure expose Indian cities to flooding. Furthermore, the catastrophic flooding has hit the tourism, business, and manufacturing industries. In addition, frequent flooding also creates health hazards in both rural and urban areas.

Revamping the flood management policies and increasing the budgetary allocation for pre and post-flood mitigation measures is essential to minimize the flood risk. Moreover, improved flood warning and forecasting systems, especially in coastal districts using advanced technology such as satellite and remote sensing equipment, may enable prompt action and reduce the impact of disasters. The government should emphasize the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) based flood monitoring and rescue systems to reduce flood risk and improve water management. Flood fatalities and damages can be reduced by adopting better flood management policies, such as building disaster-resilient measures, including maintaining river embankments and constructing canals and minor dams. Improving river connectivity, as well as constructing multipurpose shelters in low-lying areas, can also help to minimize flood risk.

Moreover, providing housing to poor and needy households under Pradhan Mantri Gramin Aawas Yojana can minimize the disaster risk for those living in low-lying and flood-prone areas. Increased budgetary allocation on restoration, mitigation, and evacuation measures during floods by the disaster management authorities can help to reduce flood fatalities. In addition, loss of life and damage increased in cities in India. To minimize the impact of urban flooding, local district administration can implement an urban flooding action plan proposed by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in 2010. Also, massive community awareness campaigns related to environmental issues, disaster prevention, and mitigation measures are required.

In 1980, for the first time in India, Rashtriya Barh Ayog (RBA) estimated the state-wise area liable to flood-prone areas. According to official data, as highlighted above, the number of people killed and damages caused by floods has increased over the period from 1953 to 2020. This necessitates the government to constitute a committee to undertake taluk, district-wise, and state-wise flood inundation mapping using advanced techniques. Adequate policies must be implemented to reduce the growing climate-induced displacements with a better framework and sustainable solution.

To ensure a sustainable development action plan, a long-term disaster management strategy must be developed to limit the flood impact in terms of loss of both human and physical capital. In short, India must adopt an integrated approach to flood management by considering flood risk management in conjunction with land use, agriculture, urban planning, and the conservation of natural resources. In addition, the government must prepare a district and block-level disaster database to help government and academicians devise better flood management policies. Finally, better coordination between district administrators, state, and central government is essential for preventing disaster impact.

This article has been co-authored by Prof. Yahobanta Parida, Faculty of Economics, FLAME University, Dr. Joyita Roy Chowdhury, Faculty of Economics, FLAME University, and Prof. Prakash K. Sahoo, Faculty of Economics, Vikram Deb University.

(Source:- https://www.dailypioneer.com/2023/columnists/india-needs-an-integrated-approach-to-flood-management.html )