Floods in North more man-made

Northern and eastern India, especially Bihar and parts of UP and Bengal, have experienced severe floods in the past few weeks. Bihar was the worst affected with the death of over 150 people and major loss of crops, property and assets.

The floods have started receding now but it will take a long time for the state to recover from the effects of the calamity. The floods this year were the worst in Bihar’s history. The scale and magnitude of the disaster and the unprecedented damage it caused have raised questions about the ability of governments to deal with floods and more importantly, about the causes of the floods. Usually it is monsoon that causes floods. The country is used to such floods. But in Bihar, there was a 15% shortfall of rain this year and yet the floods were worse than in previous years.

Two reasons have been cited for the aggravated flood situation. They make this year’s floods more man-made events than natural disasters. Water from the Bansagar dam in Madhya Pradesh on the river Sone, which is a tributary of the Ganga, was released without warning when monsoon peaked in its catchment areas. The excess water swelled the Ganga which ravaged Bihar. Water from the dam should have been released gradually over a period of time to avoid flooding.

A more serious problem is the growing siltation of the Ganga. Rivers accumulate silt in their course and collect at the bottom. This silt is left behind on the floodplains or gets drained into the sea. The massive amount of silt in the Ganga, collected over its long course and deposited at the bottom, has made the river shallow and reduced its water-bearing capacity. Even a little rain or a small discharge of water causes the river to rise, as it happened this year. Dams also stop silt from getting washed away into the sea.

The Farakka barrage built downstream in Bengal to desilt the Kolkata port and to provide water to Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh, has caused major siltation upstream up to Patna over the last many decades. This siltation was a major reason for the aggravated floods in Bihar. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has called for the dismantling of the Farakka dam because of this. This cannot be considered for many reasons. But the floods have highlighted the need for an effective silt management policy and water management methods not only for the Ganga but for all rivers. Regular dredging and desilting of rivers is also needed to improve inland water transport.

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