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Data: ‘Very Heavy Rainfall’ events increase by more than 70% in the last 3 years

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The recent extremely heavy rainfall in Hyderabad resulted in loss of life & property. Government data indicates that the events of ‘very heavy’ & ‘extremely heavy’ rainfall events increased by more than 70% in the last 3 years. The number of cyclone events has also increased during this period.

Recently, the city of Hyderabad received extremely heavy rainfall within a week resulting in flooding in many parts of the city. Extreme precipitation events are on the rise in India which is one of the most flood prone countries in the world after. This year alone, floods have severely affected various parts of  the country, be it the Northern plains, coastal states, north eastern states, and even central India. Though flooding is natural and necessary for certain natural processes such as groundwater recharge and replenishment of water bodies – torrential rains, storms, and flash floods have resulted in significant loss to life and property due to the erratic occurrence of the events. 

Nearly 1/5th of the global deaths due to floods are reported from India. Further, about 40 million hectares in the country, or one-eighth of the country’s geographical area is also prone to flooding as per the estimates of National Flood Commission in 1980. The Working Group Report on Flood Management and Region Specific Issues for the XII Plan re-estimated the area liable to flooding to 49.8 million hectares by considering the maximum area affected by floods in any year during 1953-2010. Andhra Pradesh had the most affected area of over 9 million hectares followed by Uttar Pradesh with 7.3 million hectares. 

1503 lives lost in floods up to 10 September 2020

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, floods, and heavy rains during the south west monsoon this year have claimed over 1503 lives as of 10 September 2020. In addition to this, over 7842 cattle were lost, and more than 2.75 lakh households were damaged. Crops in 20.75 lakh hectares were also devastated by the rains. West Bengal reported the greatest number of deaths, while the houses damaged in Odisha was the highest. The NCRB data reveals that between 1990 and 2019, during the span of 20 years, as many as 22,959 persons reportedly lost their lives to floods. This number has been on the rise since 2017. Another 12,043 lost their lives in cyclones and tornadoes. Thus, on an average, around 1,750 persons die every year due to cyclones and floods in India.  

Frequency of cyclones and heavy rainfall events has increased in the recent past

Between 1891 and 2017, as per the data available with Ministry of Earth Sciences, an average of five cyclones developed over the North Indian Ocean in a year- four over the Bay of Bengal and one over Arabian Sea. However, the frequency has increased in the last two years. The total number of cyclones was 3 in 2017, which increased 7 in 2018 and 8 in 2019. Frequency of cyclones over the Arabian Sea has increased from 1 in 2017 to 5 in 2019, the highest annual cyclone frequency over the Arabian Sea since 1902. Not only has the frequency increased but the number of severe cyclones has also gone up in the last two years. 

During the same period, it is observed that the number of stations which reported very heavy rainfall has increased by 67.5% while the number reporting extremely heavy rainfall has more than doubled, increasing by 112%. In simpler terms, there has been a steady increase in the number of very heavy & extremely rainfall events in the last 3 years. 

Such increase in these heavy rainfall events calls for an effective flood management system in the country as floods turn more unpredictable and severe. Multiple agencies are involved in flood control and management in India. 

Flood Management Programme provides financial assistance to states 

The Flood Management Programme under the Ministry of Water Resources was launched by the Central government during the XI five year plan under which flood prone states are provided with financial assistance for flood management activities and anti-erosion works. The programme had a budget outlay of Rs. 10,000 crores during the XII plan and has been extended up to March 2021 as a component under Flood Management and Border Areas Programme (FMBAP). Between 2017-18 and 2019-20 a total of Rs. 2022.22 crores have been released to 11 states under the scheme. About 23% of these funds were released to Assam and another 21% was released to Himachal Pradesh. 

The Central Water Commission (CWC) has established a flood forecasting network across the country and issues flood forecasts at 328 locations (198 Level Forecast for Villages/Town on the bank of the rivers and 130 Inflow Forecast Stations for Dams and Barrages) in various parts of the country. CWC collects hydrological and meteorological data based on which alerts are sent to states for taking adequate mitigation measures. Similarly, the Indian Meteorological Department also provides forecasts for cyclones and rainfall. 

The State governments have the primary responsibility of disaster response and management. State Disaster Management Authorities consisting of the Chief Minister as the chairperson draws up the state disaster management plans and is responsible for the implementation of the plan.  The state governments will have to assess losses and provide relief measures according to the severity of the ground situation through the State Disaster Response Fund. 

Disaster management fund of Rs.11000 crores has been released by the Centre

For the year 2020-21, the Centre has already released its share of Disaster Management Fund of Rs.11,565.92 Crore, in advance, to all the State Governments to fight COVID.  Further assistance is provided by the National Disaster Response Fund if the calamity is severe. At the national level, the National Disaster Management Authority under the Prime Minister’s Office is responsible for the execution of the plans.  Relief and rescue measures are implemented by the National Disaster Response Force.  

Despite the presence of response teams and agencies at different levels to manage floods in the country, inefficacies at various levels still hinder flood management in the country. Regular assessments and evaluation of flood situation using the latest scientific technology is necessary since the situation is becoming unpredictable with every passing year. The estimate by the Central Water Commission on flooding area was carried out decades ago and the scenario has changed considerably since then. Impact of climate change and sea level rise must also be factored into these models.  

A more common phenomenon as seen in metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai & Hyderabad is the lack of sustainable urban planning leading to heavy flooding that results in severe loss of life & property. These issues get discussed only when there is a severe flood and go to the back burner after that. Encroachments of natural water bodies, unplanned expansion of these mega cities make the situation worse. The recent deluge in Hyderabad due to incessant overnight rains, has once highlighted these issues. One only hopes that these issues get the required attention of policy makers for a sustainable solution. 

Featured Image: Very Heavy Rainfall

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