By Aishwarya Nag Choudhury
INDIA IS LITERALLY DROWNING!
This monsoon has already brought in an influx of heavy rainfalls in major parts of the country. Mumbai, Rajasthan, Assam, Odisha, West Bengal and Gujarat have all been dealing with the fall-outs of continuous rain this season. Even the deserts of India find themselves at the mercy of the weather. Reports from the MeT department reveal that the country has already received 21% higher than usual rainfall between 23 – 29 July this year. While the eastern region is suffering the effects of cyclone Komen, and the monsoons have caused floods in regular places like Mumbai, Assam, Uttarakhand and J&K, what is astonishing is the fact that the floods are hitting the desert areas of the country. Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, Kutch, and other parts of Gujarat, are all suffering a new reality of extreme weather conditions, which they have never experienced before.
There have been reports of over 134 deaths in the flood that has affected 80 lakh people across the country. Tens of thousands were forced to leave home and take shelter in state-run relief camps. Reports say that 215,000 people in West Bengal alone had to re-locate. Reports of 28 deaths in Rajasthan prompted the authorities to move 1000 people to safer ground. On Saturday, at least 20 people were swept away, and 10 houses were flattened to the ground by a landslide in Jourmol, the National Disaster Force reported on Sunday. The force said that the annual monsoon season in India lasts from July to September and causes death and severe damage to food and crops. While the death toll keeps rising and vast sections of the population clench onto their lives, the disaster shows no sign of subsiding.
48 deaths have been reported from various parts of the state. The causes revolve around floods and lightning, wall collapse, electrocution, snake bites and drowning. The state government said that the deaths occurred due to cyclone Komen that has triggered heavy rainfall and has isolated parts of South-west Bengal. The government deployed 121 boats and additional relief operations including 1537 relief camps accommodating 2,14,306 people. “More than 400,000 drinking water pouches have been distributed to avoid water-borne diseases”, the authorities said to the media. The floods also resulted in the loss of crops and property. 5672 cattle were lost in addition to the loss of crops that are completely unaccounted for. Excessive rains for the past two days accompanied by high tide and water released from the Jharkhand- Odisha districts have made the situation go “beyond control”, opined CM Mamta Bannerjee. She further advised the people to take shelter provided by the government to avoid “untoward incidents”. “I know that it is difficult to stay out of home but life is priority. So you must stay in relief camps for two, three days,” Banerjee added, advising people in vulnerable areas to take shelter at relief camps.
“West Bengal has not seen such a disastrous flood in the last 4 years. So far we have witnessed only man made floods and have restricted them effectively”, the CM said during her speech at the State Secretariat.
In the desert areas of Rajasthan, 28 people have lost lives due to floods. The arid region experiences heavy rainfalls in almost all districts; but areas of Jalore, Jhalawar, Baran, Sirohi, Barmer and Dungarpur are the worst affected. State disaster Response Force, the Police department and eight teams of the National Disaster Response Force are all trying to combat the effects of the disaster. More than 630 people have been rescued and relief materials are being widely distributed among the victims. Moreover, the South-western Command has also been deployed in the rescue operations. The Army Flood Relief Columns are located Chirpatiya, Dhanera and Sanchor.
The districts of Jajpur, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Bhadrak, Balasore, Jharsuguda and Deogarh have been hit worst by the floods. 5 people have lost their lives and 644 people are rendered homeless. Approximately 480,399 people are suffering the effects of the disaster. 1,547 people have been moved to higher ground till now. The seven relief camps are accommodating 55 people. Additionally 132 boats have been deployed for rescue operations.
The MeT reports say that the depression is expected to continue at least for the next 24 hours along with heavy rainfall. The depression over Bangladesh moved north-west and settled over Gangetic West Bengal, the MeT added.
In Gujarat, the floods have affected 14 districts with a total population of 40 lakh people. The government rescue operations have had over 10 lakh food packets air dropped to the victims. Temporary relief camps have also been set up. Medical teams from Vadodara, Surat and Ahmedabad have been called to keep a check on epidemics. There have been reports of 28 deaths from Banaskantha and an additional 5 in Patan. The Government also has issued a Rs. 3.78 crore grant in favour of Patan, where the electricity supply was completely cut off. Though the electricity of 457 villages has been restored, 65 villages still dwell in darkness.
The loss of cattle in Gujarat has also been alarming. 13,050 cattle died were killed in Banaskantha district alone. Reports say that over 16000 cattle have been lost till now.
FLOODS IN THE DESERT. WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING IN INDIA?
As the nationwide efforts of combating disaster continue, the predominant questions that crosses one’s mind is – how are our deserts flooding? Heavy monsoons are expected in parts of the country like Odisha, West Bengal and Mumbai, but the appalling amount of rainfall affecting the arid areas of the country, is on the first consideration, mystifying.
However, there are multiple possibilities that attribute themselves to these flood-like situations, the foremost among them being excessive rainfall. But rains are only a partial cause of the on-going disaster. As for elsewhere, rainfall management, development of river beds and interfering with the waters natural drainage patterns, reduces the capacity of the land to retain water and results in floods.
The major cause of floods can be finally traced back to climate change. According to the Intra-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) more areas are likely to see “more intense precipitation events”. This does not mean heavy rainfalls as a whole, but bouts of major rainfall staggering over the long seasons, that makes flood a frequent reality.
Parineeti Dhandekar, working for the South Asian Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) says, “This is a classic case of climate change pattern.”
A striking feature of the floods in Gujarat is the overflowing of dams. There are only two options in this situation: release water or let the water flow. But the deliberate release of water might not solve the problem. In 2006, the sudden release of water from the Ukai reservoir led to flooding in Surat. Dandekar is of the opinion that the floods take place because of poor dam management.
“We have not worked according to the provided rule curves on how to release water because of changing situations”, she said.
Dams are dangerous tools, said Dhandekar. According to her, they need to be used carefully. “The history of dam management in India has remained very problematic”. She attributes these problems to the different expectations that MP and Gujarat have from the Sardar Sarovar dam.
“Infrastructure, dam operators and decision-makers all need to be responsive to climate change. We have trusted methodologies and models to manage heavy rainfall in dams and dammed catchments. We need to follow them, update them, implement them,” she added.
Apart from possible flash floods downstream, dams cause problems for upstream communities too. This is why communities have rallied behind the Narmada Bachao Andolan for decades, to resist attempts by the Gujarat government to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam.
The excess water in the river also contributed to the inundation of low-lying parts of the city. Water levels rose dramatically after water was released into the river from the Dharoi dam in Gujarat’s Mehsana district.
“This is what happens when you introduce extra water to an area” said Himanshu Kakkar, a water expert and SANDRP convenor. Thakkar accounts the blocked drainage systems for flooding in Jaisalmer.
There are, however, other interferences besides canals – not unique to Gujarat or Rajasthan. In Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Bombay, the cause of flooding can be blamed on deforestation, building of catchment areas, and constructing encroachments on river beds; all contribute to the build-up of silt, a decrease in a river bed’s water carrying capacity, and the likelihood of water-logging.
Furthermore, it is combined with a web of canals and roads through which water must weave to find a way, this spells trouble for the state’s ability to cope with floods.