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Closing the floodgates

To mitigate the large-scale destruction of floods, systems need to develop during the non-flood periods — not when the water is literally at our doorstep.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2007 22:35 IST

After north Bihar, east Uttar Pradesh and Assam, now it is the turn of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to bear the brunt of floods. The situation in Assam continues to be grim because the National Highway 31 that links the state to the country has remained cut-off since September 9 with floods affecting movement of trucks carrying essential items to the region. In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, heavy rains have killed more than 60 people, not to mention the destruction of property and natural resources. With all the resources and funds at its disposal, how is it that the State is always caught on the wrong foot every time there is a deluge?

‘Disaster’ is a very convenient label, an umbrella term for any natural calamity. But the truth is that most floods are State-induced disasters. While mitigation, preparedness and response is part of the cold chain to handle such crises, the second is the most crucial part — and that is where we flounder time and again. Floods destroy more than what meets the eye. Submerged land, destroyed options of livelihood, severe lack of potable water — and people stranded without any access to government services. The socio-economic fibre of the flood-hit area is completely destroyed. To mitigate this large-scale destruction, systems need to develop during the non-flood periods — not when the water is literally at our doorstep. Not doing so is criminal because floods are an annual occurrence and we have information about susceptible areas every year.

First, decentralise policy initiatives by thinking micro-level. A single blanket disaster management policy will not work for India. Systems need to be created on how land can be developed during the non-flood period, especially with extensive intervention in agriculture so that people are left with foodgrains during floods. As for drinking water, the recent insistence has been on handpumps. But what happens when they get submerged during floods? Rainwater harvesting is a possible alternative. Floods also mean a large-scale migration to other parts of the country. Surely the State can provide opportunities based on local skills to ensure that such flood-induced migration is contained? And most importantly, preparedness is a factor of proactive governance, outside-the-box thinking and a value for human life.