Before the flood
The state Govts’ lack of preparedness in dealing with floods is criminal, despite having information about the rising water levels and years of experience.india Updated: Aug 07, 2007 00:21 IST
Alarm bells have started ringing in the corridors of power but it is probably a little too late for the millions facing this year’s monsoon fury in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Assam. Orissa may soon join the three states with incessant rains hitting its coastal areas for the last few days. Described by the United Nations as the “worst flooding in living memory”, the floods have killed more than 200 people and have left more than 16 million displaced. VIPs including UPA president Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister Shivraj Patil have been making their mandatory visits to the flood-hit states to take stock of the situation and to show their concern. The governments have opened shelters and have been airdropping food and medicine. However, these measures are hardly enough to implement the kind of remedial measures that are desperately required. Much more needs to be done, and more importantly, much more was needed to be done before the calamity.
Floods are nothing new in these areas. It is the intensity of the floods that differ from year to year. The state governments’ lack of preparedness is criminal, despite having information about the rising water levels and years of experience, as is their incapability to find an outside-the-box solution to the annual scourge. In the lookout for technology-dependent quick-fix solutions, governments have assiduously built and rebuilt embankments. They have clamoured for dams when it is known that dams cannot put a cap on flooding, debating for days on end the inter-linking of rivers. As is evident, none of the above ‘remedies’ has worked. Instead, the embankment-building spree has only strengthened the politician-contractor lobby. Embankments lead to a dangerous build-up of water within the embanked river. At the same time, people start camping on these embankments. There have been many occasions when waters have burst through at weak points in the embankments causing destruction of life and property. The problem is that politicians, bureaucrats and engineers see their careers dependent on such massive projects. Moreover, relief operations are now a virtual industry for politicians, contractors and even some non-governmental organisations.
It is high time that our politicians, administrators and engineers start learning how to ‘live with floods’. For starters, this would mean ‘liberating’ the river from the embankments, restoring the equilibrium between rivers and communities and learning from traditional knowledge. It’s also time the governments learn to be much more proactive, rather than merely reactive. It is difficult to contain the fury of nature. But with the right systems and policies in place, the trail of destruction can be minimised.