How we can have disaster-free floods
GS Paper 2: Disaster management
Prelims exam: Provisions of the Act
Mains Exam: Flood disaster management
Turning a crisis into an opportunity
• Assam has been ravaged by two bouts of floods in quick succession. At the peak of floods in May, more than 2,000 villages and 7 lakh people got affected.
• As the flood adversity increased, so did river bank erosion — at the peak, some districts reported multiple instances of river bank erosion.
• The holy grail of flood protection (the embankments) got breached once again.
• In this hour of crisis, it is apt to reflect on what Prime Minister had said a couple of years ago – “turning a crisis into an opportunity”.
Moving away from hazard prevention to the minimisation of disaster risk
• The overall aim has to move away from hazard prevention to the minimisation of disaster risk.
• Hazards like floods are often triggered by extreme weather events, but they translate into disaster risk due to anthropogenic factors.
• The anthropogenic factors share a complex relationship with biophysical and social vulnerability.
• A logical corollary of this is to move away from the sole focus on structural interventions and river engineering to prevent floods and instead, address the underlying factors that drive the multiple dimensions of vulnerability.
What should the strategies include?
• Strategies should include round-the-year developmental activities.
• Risk management cannot be done just by the water resources department. It needs convergence across multiple departments.
• Expanding flood management strategies’ scope: Flood risk management strategies would need to expand their scope from river engineering and embankment construction and address the diverse root causes through a set of interventions targeted to address the drivers of vulnerability.
• New models of embankment management are needed.
• Resilience building: At the community level, there must be redundancies that contribute to resilience building: For example, every village in Assam should have access to elevated shelters, even if they are not used during the non-flood months.
• Warning systems: There is an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and hence the importance of warning systems will increase.
• Convergence with the tiered community institutions:
o With proper training, tiered community institutions promoted under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission could act as a response force of the community to calamities in disaster-prone areas.
• Creating a specialist cadre:
o Dealing with flood risk is essentially a management problem. It requires dedicated and trained professionals who understand the interdisciplinarity required to manage flood risk and build resilience.
o This set of professional cadres could be located at the district level, working closely with District Disaster Management Agency and district administration and coordinating with the various line departments.
• District Disaster Management fellows: There could be a dedicated group of trained young professionals with a time-bound and goal-driven assignment.
The riparian population and their lives and livelihoods should be at the centre of the planning process of flood management. This is an opportunity for the state government, philanthropic agencies, development implementers and academic institutes to come together and develop a resilient mechanism for flood management.