Floods- A man made Disaster

Sunil Seth
Flood, is a large amount of water beyond its normal limits which may occur due as an overflow of water from water bodies or due to an accumulation of rainwater on erstwhile saturated ground. It can be attributed to climate change at the macro level, which is taking place at twice the rate in Polar Regions than the Global average. The Indian researchers too have found that the fast-melting Arctic ice can too have adverse implications for Indian Monsoon rains. Planet is at the risk of becoming the Hot House. Decreasing forest capture due to deforestation and potential of oceans to capture of CO2, increased Methane release around the Arctic and less solar ray reflection because of melting of ice are likely to lead the mother earth towards Global Warming at an accelerated pace. There is evidence that average sea temperatures have been risen and this rise has been blamed for the increasing frequency and severity of tropical revolving storms resulting in erratic rainfall with increasing frequency of flooding. It has been predicted that global warming will result in reduced rainfall in some regions, but in other, rainfall totals might increase. Higher temperatures will result in increased evaporation over the seas and oceans, leading to greater precipitation. High intensities and sustained spells are one of the ill effects of Global Warming and Climate change which is crystal clear from increasing trend in the frequency of intense rains since 1900s. Such an increase will inevitably cause more rivers to flood, particularly since most flood plains have become heavily urbanized due to uncontrolled migration from villages to more developed areas.
Migration too being an ill effect of wrong doings of the planners enshrined with the powers to ensure the proper land use patterns which too were sacrificed for the vested interests. Coupled with the bad effects of global warming was the endless deforestation resulting in reduced recharging of soils at upper reaches thereby decreasing the time lag for the water from the catchments to reach the urbanized areas supplemented with the increased silt load because of increased erosion, that too the being the after effect of deforestation resulting in the rising of bed levels of rivers and reservoirs in flood plains, which in turn aggravated the intensity of over flooding of inhabited areas along with the increase in frequency of flooding. Surface flows from upper reaches coupled with the local rains added to the fury of floods. Rising of the bed levels with increased volumes can result in over flooding of the embankments causing problems of water logging.
So, flood plains close to the present sea levels along with deltas would be at risk from flooding. Madhusoodan, Founder Director of World Institute of Sustainable Energy said a serious thought has to be given to whether we should continue with this model of development at the risk of damaging the environment. Resorts are built on hilltops and skyscrapers are built along the rivers and lakes. We are the people behind this aftermath. We are disturbing the energy balance. Now, nature needs re distribution to rebalance it. We ignored importance of wetlands; sensitivity of ecologically fragile land; built buildings on leveled farm lands; allowed encroachments; allowed deforestation and excessive quarrying. Where will the water drain? So, floods are not surprising. Several of floods in India viz. Mumbai in 2005; Surat in 2006; Kashmir in 2014; Chennai in 2015; Bihar in 2016 and recently in Kerala , have all been attributed to man-made factors either due to uncontrolled development; blocking of water ways or poor dam management, as was the case in Kerala. Ecologist Madhav Gadgil in its report to MoEF dated August 31, 2011 has designated the entire Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive area. The panel was skeptical about dams, warning against their construction in the Western Ghats too. Moreover, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) in its report too recommended that no mining should be allowed in Western Ghats. But the panel’s report was criticized for excessively environment friendly and not in line with the ground realities. Highest no of vulnerable zones were identified in Kerala itself because of its position amidst the Western Ghats along with man-made factors viz. quarrying, mining, illegal repurposing of forest and high-rise buildings among a few controllable factors that the state chose to brush aside.
Also the 10 member High Level Working Group(HLWG) headed by Mr. Kasturiranjan too had recommended prohibition on developmental activities in 60,000 sq.km ecologically sensitive area spread over six states. Even the caution has been sounded by Mr. Thummarukudy, Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction in the UN Environment Programmed on June 14, that which was not foreseen. Dam reservoirs need to be relatively emptied before the onset of rains which was not taken care of and it was for the first time in the State’s history that it received 12 inches of rain in 24 hours, double the average amount for the entire month of August with reservoirs full, that 35 of the dams had to be opened simultaneously, particularly opening the gates of Asia’s largest arch dam, the Idukki, releasing 800,000 liters of water per second, was an invitation to a serious disaster. This could have been avoided if the Dam operators had started releasing water in advance rather than waiting for the Dams to be filled up, when they have no alternative but to release water, as said by the Water Expert, Mr. Himanshu Thakur. Now, coming back to our State, Historical records, including Revenue records of the State Govt. prove that densely- populated and un scale residential areas left of Jhelum were its old Flood Basins. Walter Lawrence, the British Land Revenue Settlement Commissioner of Dogra Maharaja Pratap Singh, noted that this flood basin had taken the brunt of the 1893 deluge and formed a huge Lake right up to the present Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
Now today, Walter Lawrence’s flood basin has vanished. Instead, there are residential areas of Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Gogjibagh, Wazirbagh, Chanapora, Natipora, Bemina and others. Ironically, the entire flood basin that saved Srinagar in 1893 from greater devastation has seen an un-thought urbanization. Encroachments along right bank of river Tawi on upstream Tawi Bridge; along left bank on downstream Tawi Bridge are best examples of decreasing the waterway. Construction on upper reaches of Janipur too reflects encroachment of the catchment area.
Construction activities along various Nallahs in Jammu region are the future threats for flooding. All factors which have been discussed above contributed to the floods of 2014, which once again is questioning our present model of development starting with the encroachments along the water ways and unclothing of the Mother Earth from trees, the root cause behind the Global Warming followed by the Climate Change, the initiation of every unpredictability of Modern Times, be it the floods; earthquakes; weather; volcanic eruptions; typhoons or many more. Regulations and policies needs to be revisited once again to come forward with a more reliable and sustainable environment friendly model of development.” Jhelum Tawi Flood Recovery Project”, is the first initiative by our state in this direction. The steps to be taken to avoid any such catastrophe in future, needs to incorporate the following measures in its policy formulation.
Firstly, the issue of land use patterns on steep slopes, along the water bodies, farm lands, low lying areas where water can converge and vulnerable zones and ecologically sensitive regions along with removal of sand from the rivers, needs to be strictly regulated and alternatives encouraged so that the minimum damage is caused to the natural topography of any area. Also, faulty sewer systems; poor or insufficient drainage networks and inadequate maintenance of water courses are other fields of consideration in the built up areas erstwhile concrete jungles, where even lesser amount of rain results in overflows in the form of floods. Secondly, dams can both prevent and cause floods has been proved with the recent floods of Kerala. We need to rethink our entire approach to large scale transformation of rivers, including their flows and sediment transport and the short and long term implications of these. The fact, that maximizing water levels for power generation and irrigation can have very dangerous consequences under certain conditions.
The inevitable Trade-Offs with respect to Hydropower and Irrigation needs to be addressed by investments elsewhere in alternative sources and prudent water consumption in agriculture and industry. A new policy of adaptive management of our Dams and Reservoirs needs to be linked to upstream early warning systems and downstream needs of ecosystem and livelihood in pretext of the timely release of water. Above all, urgent and transparent approach to generation, monitoring and sharing of Hydrologic and Rainfall data to forge meaningful understanding of spatial and temporal dimensions of emerging changes in our rainfall regime is the need of the hour as it is next to impossible for Urbanization to slow down it’s pace.
Need for installation and maintain automated and Tele-connected Rain gauges and stream gauges in head water catchments for development of catchment hydrologic models to predict hydrologic responses at short and longer time scales. The forecasts thus can be part of early warning systems. For this, the ministry of “Earth Sciences”, “Environment and Forests” and “Climate Change” needs to be brought on one platform, to understand how catchments are likely to respond to climatic shocks and for this the “Artificial Intelligence” is the way forward with People centric Environment protection approach on the anvil.