The Kerala floods have once again exposed how ill-prepared we are to handle extreme weather events.
Starting with the Mumbai floods of 2005, we have seen a number of disasters occurring in different parts of the country almost every year — Kashmir floods, Uttarakhand disaster, Chennai floods and so on.
A map of the worst-affected districts ( Courtesy: Reuters)
All of them involved floods caused by heavy and intense rainfall in short duration of time — which in scientific jargon is described as extreme weather event.
In general, scientists have been predicting for years now that the frequency of such extreme events would go up under warming climate. But it would be a fallacy to attribute every natural disaster to climate change, at the face of it.
For instance, scientists have shown that the Chennai floods can’t be attributed to climate change alone, but it was more a result of unsustainable land use policies pursued in the past three decades.
If extreme weather events are increasing under different climate change scenarios and there is not much that we can do to mitigate climate change, we certainly need to prepare ourselves to reduce the risk from such occurrences.
Coordination and action is required in real time. (Photo of rescue operations in Kerala: Reuters)
The first and foremost step is to have a robust forecasting and prediction system.
India has one of the best weather forecasting systems and some of the weather-related observatories are located on the Kerala coast, where the southwest monsoon makes its entry in June every year.
The country has world-class remote sensing and weather and earth observation satellites that keep an eye on the Indian landmass.
In addition, we have access to imagery from other agencies like NASA. Weather forecast and satellite data need to be used in synergy with ground data from reservoirs and dams to issue flood forecast and warnings.
If we can't do much to mitigate climate change, we certainly need to prepare ourselves to reduce the risk. (Photo: Reuters)
Then these warnings have to be conveyed to people and evacuation, if necessary, needs to follow.
In this exercise, multiple agencies at central and state levels — scientific, technical, administration, government departments — are involved.
Coordination and action is required in real time. This is where we are lacking.
An aid distribution centre inside a stadium in Kochi. (Photo: Reuters)
For instance, the Central Water Commission (CWC) — which is in-charge of flood forecasting — has no ground stations in Kerala for this purpose. In addition, as Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People has pointed out, the magnitude of the disaster in Kerala could have been minimised “if dam operators had started releasing water in advance rather than waiting for dams to be filled up, when they have no alternative but to release water”.
If we are serious about tackling floods —annual floods in Assam, Odisha as well as floods triggered by extreme rainfall in other — we need an agency exclusively for this purpose. Such an agency should collect and analyse all hydrological data — rivers, dams, rainfall, glacier melt etc — and coordinate with other agencies like India Meteorological Department and Indian Space Research Organisation as well as the National Disaster Management Authority. All such information and data should be made publicly available. CWC has too many things on its plate and can’t effectively act as a flood forecasting agency.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)