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Going under every monsoon

The monsoon has taken a terrible toll in Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the north-east. Millions have been affected, and tens of thousands fleeing the floods are without a livelihood.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2008 19:28 IST

The monsoon has taken a terrible toll in Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the north-east. Millions have been affected, and tens of thousands fleeing the floods are without a livelihood.

Considering this has been happening year after year, it is time the authorities spared more than sympathies to the hapless people. The economic and social costs involved in local populations resigning themselves to battling the floodwaters every time are unacceptable. Besides the loss of life and property, the destruction of substantial grain stores and un-harvested crops could also impact India’s mid-term food security.

It is all very well to say that the monsoon patterns in the Bay of Bengal are the toughest to simulate mathematically by any climate model and that the region’s unique geo-climatic conditions make it vulnerable to floods. But that doesn’t mean state administrations should not have better flood mitigation plans. The authorities claim they have put in place an effective disaster management system. This will be tested in the days to come as they respond to the crisis by evacuating people and moving rescue teams and food rations to the affected areas.

Current flood control plans are flawed the way they did not factor in the kind of severe flooding that we see now.

Deforestation over decades has silted up many rivers, which raised the riverbeds, leading to flooding. It is no use building temporary embankments, as even minor breaches in such structures could let the floodwaters in, submerging whole towns and villages. Some experts suggest that we need to build an effective flood protection system using topographic data and satellite imagery to erect contiguous embankments on either side of major rivers.

However, to be effective these structures must be constantly dredged so that siltation will not raise the river bed and wreak further havoc. This may be a costly exercise, but a small price to pay for ending the human tragedy.