Monsoon floods will only get worse in India. This is what can be done to help
The estimated loss from floods accounts for $7 billion each year in the country.
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It was the summer of 1995, monsoon was approaching, and like all other children, I was anxiously waiting for it. Monsoon used to be a treat for us — we celebrated rain with a rhyme, ‘Monsoon Brings the Rain’. That summer, monsoon arrived with its full strength and the district administration sent an advisory directing all schools and colleges to be closed. The early onset of monsoon brought a smile to not only me, but everyone around, as most of the people I was living with were farmers.
However, time passed, and now, ‘Monsoon brings the rain’ has changed into ‘Monsoon brings flood and destruction’.
Monsoon is increasingly becoming synonymous with floods in many parts of the country. (Photo: PTI/file)
The journey from smile to distress, happiness to pain, celebration to destruction is crimped into the story of the change in India’s hydrological past, present, and future. What has changed in these years is the increase in the probability of damaging floods in India, and indeed, around the world. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that living with disasters has become a new normal.
During monsoon, India experiences floods each year in many parts of the country. About 40 million hectares — almost 12 per cent of India’s geographical area — is subjected to pluvial floods, of which about 8 million hectares are susceptible to annual flooding. The estimated loss from floods accounts for $7 billion each year in India.
Several studies on the Indian region have documented a significant rise in the frequency and duration of monsoon rainfall during the recent decades. Therefore, increase in frequency of high intensity and erratic rainfall is the likely hydrological future of India.
Simulated flood water depth for 26 July 2005 event over Mumbai.
Complimenting riverine floods is urban flooding, a growing concern for policy makers and researchers. It is estimated that 40 per cent of India will live in urban areas by 2030, as compares to 30 per cent in 2011. Flooding in mega cities is a challenge, given the impact on people, infrastructure and economy.
Mumbai has become a classic case of urban flooding, and has been extensively studied. The July 2005 deluge in Mumbai was a wakeup call, when the city experienced the worst flooding in its recorded history. The impact was such that the city was at a standstill for three days, with an estimated loss of Rs 30 billion and over a thousand lives.
TERI, with the use of high-end hydrological and spatial models, also studied the urban flood issue in the entire Mumbai Metropolitan area and identified flood hotspot areas within the city.
Its recommendations and interventions have been suggested to the state government as part of ‘Maharashtra State Action Plan for Climate Change.’ Like Mumbai, several other cities, such as Bengaluru, Chennai, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Surat, Ahmedabad, Gurugram, are facing the issue of urban flooding.
The key reasons for urban floods, apart from weather extremes, are unplanned development, encroachments over natural drainage and water bodies, insufficient sewerage system, change in land use, concretisation, and poor planning and implementation of flood protection measures. The cumulative impact of these factors leads to the generation of a huge runoff volume in a short time span, resulting waterlogging and floods.
Rain brought Mumbai to a standstill again this year. Along with riverine floods, urban flooding has emerged as another major challenge. (Photo: PTI/file)
In order to address flood threats — both riverine and urban — there is an urgent need to carry out flood risk assessments and flood hotspot mapping at regional and local scale. For an effective flood-risk management plan, it is important to understand the three aspects of flooding —the river catchment and flood plain as a system, its interaction and feedback with the atmosphere, and the socioeconomic processes to prioritise targeted actions.
The approach includes the strengthening of existing flood disaster management strategies, with emphasis on improving the modelling capabilities and the development of a holistic methodology for flood risk assessment and mapping. Improvement in weather forecast, in institutional mechanism for responses and recovery, and focus on planned development of the cities are crucial too.
Over the years, we have failed to perform a comprehensive assessment of flood risks at the regional and local scale, due to methodological challenges, unavailability of data and limited spatiotemporal scope of the analysis.
Some work has been done for river flood forecasts at the regional level. For instance, Flood Early Warning System was developed for the state of Assam to provide a probabilistic forecast of flooding along the river Brahmaputra. Odisha has also developed an early warning system for Mahanadi River, but we don’t have an early warning system for urban floods.
Several state and disaster management authorities are in discussions with the scientific fraternity in order to develop Flood Early Warning Systems on experimental basis specifically for urban floods. However, the efforts have not been enough to match the scale of the problem of urban flooding.
Time has come now that we work in the direction of a comprehensive and effective flood risk management plan both at the regional and the local level, so that we can say that ‘Monsoon Brings the Rain’ and not floods and destruction.