EDITORIAL | Floods: Disaster mismanagement

Much of the devastation is man-made

A view of a flood-affected region in Malappuram district of Kerala. PTI

Monsoon rains are wreaking havoc across the country. The nationwide death toll is over 147 so far, with Kerala (72) and Karnataka (40) accounting for the most deaths. Maharashtra and Gujarat have been hit badly and Assam is only now recovering. Peninsular India is bearing the brunt of it. Intense and incessant rains and flooding of major and minor rivers as well as landslides have resulted in thousands of villages across the country getting either swallowed up by rivers or submerged in mud. Historical monuments such as those at Hampi, Badami and Pattadakal in Karnataka are under water. Kerala, which suffered ‘the worst floods in a century’ last year, could be staring at another disaster now. Eighty landslides have occurred over the past few days and lakhs of people have fled their homes. Karnataka is experiencing its “worst floods in 45 years,” according to Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa. Among the worst-hit districts are Bagalkot, Belagavi, Dharwad, Vijayapura, Kodagu, Chikkamagalur, Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada and Mysuru. Kodagu, which was submerged under flood waters last year, is reeling again. While the average rainfall for Kodagu in August is around 38 centimetres, the district got 93 cm of rain over just one week.

The water levels in several rivers are above or nearing the danger mark. Authorities in several states have opened up dam gates. They must do this in a responsible way, consulting authorities and informing the public in places further down the river’s course. A report released by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People has drawn attention to how mismanagement in releasing water from various dams, including some in Karnataka, resulted in the current floods in Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara districts. Water should be released to prevent floods, rather than to push flooding to lower riparian regions.

The immediate task at hand is to rescue people displaced by the floods and to house them in shelters. Hopefully, lessons have been learnt from mistakes made in relief and reconstruction operations last year. It is heartening to see civil society rising to the occasion by mobilizing relief supplies for the displaced. Better co-ordination among such efforts could prove more effective and reduce replication. The need for more efficient warning systems, better arrangements of evacuation and facilities for shelter always comes into focus with the floods every year. As in previous years, ministers and politicians are taking to the skies for aerial surveys of flood-affected areas. Officials, helicopters and other resources are being diverted to ferry around these ministers instead of being used for rescue and relief operations. Floods should not be seen as photo-opportunities. They present short-term and long-term challenges that need to be addressed. 

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