- This article discusses the increasing frequency of floods occurring due to various causes which necessitates appropriate flood management and suggests measures to tackle flood.
What are floods?
- Sudden submergence or inundation of land area with water is called a flood. The occurrence of floods can be due to both natural and human causes.
Devastating flood incidents
- Last year (2022), devastating floods in Pakistan claimed 1,700 lives and affected 33 million people.
- The 2013 floods in Uttarakhand, the 2014 floods in the Kashmir Valley, the 2015 floods in Chennai, and the 2017 floods in Gujarat all caused loss of lives and livelihoods and massive damage to infrastructure.
- In 2023, the devastating effects of rain-induced floods and landslides in several districts of Himachal Pradesh.
- The Yamuna water level crossed the 208.5 meter mark, breaking a 45-year-old record.
- All these disasters point to the severity of the situation and the urgent need to tackle it.
How vulnerable is India to floods?
- As per the Geological Survey of India, over 40 million hectares, which is nearly 12% of the total land area of India, is prone to floods.
Causes of increasing frequency and intensity of floods
- Climate change: Climate change induced increased frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation.
- Unplanned urbanization: Cities expand fast and mostly in a haphazard manner, which makes them vulnerable to floods.
- Occupying floodplains: Reduces water retention: Illegal construction work in floodplains reduces the capacity of rivers to contain a high level of water within their banks. This is especially the case during heavy rainfall when water flows down from upper catchment areas. This tendency to occupy floodplains results in flooding.
- A 2018 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India attributed encroachments in the floodplains of the rivers of Tamil Nadu and the failure to act on them as the prime reason for the Chennai floods of 2015. The auditor called the deluge a ‘man-made disaster’.
Impact of Case study of Uttarakhand
- Uttarakhand has been neglecting eco-sensitive floodplains by allowing the construction of guest houses and hotels on the riverfront to promote tourism and boost its economy.
- In the wake of the massive floods in 2013, the National Green Tribunal virtually barred construction of buildings 200 m along the banks of the Ganga, in a 2015 directive. However, attempts were made to bypass this.
- The Uttaranchal River Valley (Development and Management) Act, 2005, is meant to regulate mining and construction in the river valley. But reports indicate that there is rampant mining and construction activity with little regard for the environment.
What is the issue?
- India primarily relies on the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and the rules made in pursuance of the Act, to deal with flood management. But this law is meant to deal with multi-hazard risks and is not specifically focused on flood risk management.
- While there are central policy measures to protect floodplains, they are mostly non-binding on States and hence no State in India has been able to prevent encroachment on floodplains.
Change in strategy
- A shift in the strategy of flood control in countries such as Germany, the U.K., and the Netherlands to flood risk management as opposed to flood protection is also needed in India.
- Because disaster risks across the world are found to be situated within environmental and natural resource governance.
- While the protection strategy includes technical measures such as the laying of dikes, temporary flood defense walls, and polders, the key elements of the management strategy are retention of water and restoration of floodplains.
- Protecting and preserving ecosystems such as wetlands, forests, lakes, and coastal areas has potential benefits in reducing physical exposure to natural hazards such as floods, landslides or avalanches by serving as buffers.
- Floodplain restoration and water retention of water bodies are considered to be pillars against flooding.
- In 1996, Germany made a fundamental change to its Federal Water Act in the aftermath of a massive flood. The law provides for protecting original retention capacity while reconstructing bodies of water.
- Climate change adaptation is a cross-sectoral issue and hence a multitude of laws need to be integrated into a coherent framework.
- It involves laws relating to land use, preservation of water bodies, coastal regulations, and environmental impact assessment.