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Review: As damages due to Floods increase, Standing Committee makes important recommendations

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Damages due to floods have increased in the last two decades with increased instances of floods. With the IPCC predicting a general increase in floods due to climate change, mitigation strategies become important. The standing committee on water resources recently submitted a report on flood management. Here is a review.

India is among the most flood-prone countries in the world after Bangladesh. About 40 million hectares of land, amounting to roughly one-eighth of India’s geographical area is prone to floods. Almost every year, India witnesses floods of varying intensity which claim many lives and cause significant economic loss. There are multiple factors that can be attributed to the occurrence of floods including natural factors such as climate change, incessant rains, and glacial outbursts and human-induced factors such as encroachment of water bodies, and ecological damage. Even though floods cannot be controlled, efforts can be made to put in place mitigation strategies to minimize their impact. These strategies may be significant because, in the coming years, the frequency of occurrence and intensity of floods is anticipated to further increase as highlighted in the IPCC’s latest report on climate change. 

Recently, the Standing Committee on Water Resources submitted its report on ‘Flood Management in the Country’ which makes a slew of recommendations to monitor, handle, and mitigate floods in the country. We look at the historical data on floods including loss of life, economic loss and review the recommendations of the committee in this story. 

Floods are categorized into 3 in India

Flood situations in India are categorized into three- above normal, severe, and extreme floods depending upon the river water level with reference to warning level, danger level, and highest flood level. This categorization is done by the Central Water Commission.

More than one lakh persons have died in floods in 66 years

As per data available and provided in the standing committee report, in the 66 years between 1953 and 2018, a total of 109,374 people died because of floods and heavy rains in the country. An average of 1,657 lives were lost each year. Data indicates that there isn’t a single year during this period in which no lives were claimed by floods. Further, it is observed that since 1976, at least 1,000 people have died in floods each year except for 1999 and 2012. Further, nearly 85% of the reported deaths have taken place in the 43-year period from 1976 to 2018. In addition to this, nearly 32.2 million persons on average are affected annually by floods. 

The greatest number of deaths were reported in 1977 when more than 11,000 persons were killed. The cyclone in Andhra Pradesh in 1977 was responsible for the majority of the deaths. The cyclone also killed 40,000 cattle and destroyed about 40% of India’s food grains. 

India has suffered damages worth more than Rs. 4 Lakh crores between 1953 and 2018

In the 66 years between 1953 and 2018, India has suffered total damages worth Rs. 4,00,097 crores due to floods. This includes damages to crops, houses, and public utilities. Of the Rs. 4 lakh crores worth damages suffered, about 56% amounting to Rs. 2.24 lakh crores were due to damages to public utilities, 29% amounting to Rs. 1.15 lakh crores were that of crops, and the remaining 14% amounting to Rs. 56,283 crores were that of damage to houses. The damages were the highest in 2015 when Rs.57,291 crores worth of damage was reported. 

India faces an annual average loss of Rs. 6,062 crores due to damages in floods. Further, it is seen that the damages suffered have increased substantially in recent years. The average annual damage was Rs. 60 crores between 1953 and 1960. Between 1961 and 1970, this increased to Rs. 138 crores which further rose to Rs. 740 crores between 1971 and 1980. In the decade of 1981 to 1990, the loss was worth Rs. 2,636 crores which increased to Rs. 4,079 crores in 1991 to 2000, and Rs.12,650 crores between 2001 and 2010. In the eight years from 2011 to 2018, the average loss was worth Rs. 24,648 crores. While some part of this increase can be attributed to the general increase in the value of crops, houses & public utilities, the steep increase in the last 18 years is concerning. 

The share of damage to public utilities has increased from 15% to 61%

In addition to the quantum of damage due to floods, the nature of damage has also changed over the years. The share of damage suffered due to crop losses as against the total damage has been decreasing. Between 1953 and 1970, damage due to crops constituted more than 70% of the total damage due to floods. Since then, the share of damage to crops decreased to 59% from 1971 to 1980, 43% from 1981 to 1990, 40% from1991 to 2000, and to around 25% from 2001 to 2010. Between 2011-2018, the share of damage to crops in the total damages is 26%. 

On the other hand, the share of damage to public utilities has increased.  Initially, between 1953 and 1960, its share was less than 15%, which increased to 26%, 42%, 45%, and 58% in the following decades. Between 2011 to 2018, the share of damages to public utilities out of the total damages is 61%. The share of damage due to houses has remained between 12% to 17% throughout the years. 

Besides the material damage, floods may also result in medium- and long-term health impacts like water and vector-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, or malaria, cause injuries, chemical hazards, mental health effects, and disrupted health systems. 

What is the government’s institutional mechanism to deal with floods?

As per a response provided in the Lok Sabha, structural and non-structural measures are undertaken by the government for flood protection and management. Institutional mechanisms are also in place at the National, State and district levels for disaster management including floods. State Disaster Response Fund is placed at the disposal of the State Governments, who are primarily responsible for dealing with disasters. Additional financial assistance is provided from National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), as per laid down procedure in case of disaster of ‘severe nature’, which includes an on-the-spot assessment of damages by an Inter-Ministerial Central Team. 

The standing committee recommends adding Flood Control in Concurrent List instead of State List

The key observations and recommendations made by the Standing Committee in its report are the following. 

  • Flood control is State subject as per the Constitution. However, since most rivers flow across states, flood control taken measures taken by one state may have inter-state ramifications. The committee recommended that the Union Government make concerted efforts for arriving at a national consensus to place “Flood control and Management” under concurrent list.
  • The committee recommended establishing a permanent institutional structure in the form of the National Integrated Flood Management Group (NIFMG) under the chairmanship of the Minister of Jal Shakti immediately as an overarching body responsible for flood management. The group should include concerned ministers of state governments as members and meet at least once a year. The responsibilities of the body are supervision over flood management in India especially that of states or local governments and which are under international linkages, and formulation of strategies on prevention and mitigation of flooding.
  • The committee recommended that a holistic approach be taken to tackle the problem of floods which should involve a multi-pronged strategy including regeneration and conservation of natural vegetation and soil covers in catchment areas to arrest soil erosion, use of agricultural methods which make the best use of floods, invigoration of dry springs, groundwater table recharge and better percolation of rainwater into the ground.
  • The committee recommended the Ministry of Jal Shakti to pass the Dam Safety Bill and the River Basin Management Bill at the earliest for optimum utilization and efficient management of water resources and floods mitigation. 
  • Model Bill providing for zoning of floodplains was circulated by the central government to all states but only Manipur, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand and erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir had enacted the legislation. The most flood-prone states such as UP, Bihar, and Odisha had not adopted the legislation. The committee recommended that the Model Bill be modified considering the socio-political and economic realities of the regions and provide financial assistance to the implementing states.
  • The committee welcomed the legislation to set the ‘North East Water Management Authority (NEWMA)’ to facilitate integrated management of water resources for the whole of the North East Region and recommended that the Bill be finalized and enacted in a time-bound manner. It also asked the Ministry to set up ‘River Basin Organizations’ and ‘River Basin Management Authority’.
  •  The committee noted that the Union government’s share in the funding of flood management programmes reduced from 75% to 50% for general states and from 90% to 70% for special category states during the 12th plan. The committee recommended that the Centre’s share be increased and push the Finance Ministry to provide adequate budgetary support for flood management programmes. It is evident from the data that the Union Government released only 45% of the funds for works approved under the 11th plan and 24% of the funds under the 12th plan. 

Considering the possibility of increased instances of flooding in the coming years, the damage caused due to this natural disaster might only increase. Thus, an integrated approach with immediate measures to deal with floods must be adopted to reduce the overall losses.  

Featured Image: Damages due to floods

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