A crisis emerges

Almost the entire north India, from Haryana to Bihar, is reeling under floods. All major rivers and canals are in spate, dams are full and water is being released from the reservoirs to ease the pressure. Rains are continuing and meteorologists are predicting more of them. Even in low rainfall years, floods cause losses in many areas. This year the monsoon is above average, after failure in many parts last year. That has led to the swelling of all rivers. Uttarakhand is perhaps the worst affected, with cloudburst and landslides taking a heavy toll of lives and property. About 400 people have lost their lives in all states together. Entire villages and cattle have been washed away and normal life has been derailed.

Though floods are an annual feature we are still unable to cope with them. The expertise that should have been gained in the past years is never in evidence in dealing with a new situation. Increasing our knowledge about floods is important, and better research is needed for that. All countries which have rivers flowing down from the Himalayas, mainly India, Pakistan, and China,  have experienced unusually high flood levels and climatic changes. There is a view that these are because of the changes in the Himalayan ecosystem and it calls for more studies. It would be a great idea if the countries jointly set up a research institute with representation for experts and scientists from all of them to study the Himalayas. Our knowledge of the Himalayas is poor and inadequate. A world class research institute with climatologists, geologists and other experts from the countries will help to understand better the mountain ranges which are vital for all of them. It will also be symbol of co-operation and collaboration, badly needed in the region.

What is immediately needed in the affected states is quick evacuation of people from flood-hit areas, proper running of relief camps, reaching of food and medical aid to the needy people  and distribution of compensation to those who have suffered losses. The worst sufferers are poor people many of whom have lost their belongings and livelihood. Every year there are complaints  about the failure of governments to deal with the flood situation and this year is no different. The state and central authorities and the national disaster relief force will have to work more efficiently and with better co-ordination to manage the difficult situation in many states.

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