Floods: All states stand exposed

An elderly person being rescued from a flood-affected colony at Rajendra Nagar in Patna. (PTI Photo)

The latest city to go under the floods is Patna and two states to be ravaged by them are Bihar and UP. Floods are not new to either state, and they have been an annual feature laying low life along riverbanks and farther inside. But every year in the past few years, the disaster has been gaining in intensity and spread. This year has seen the worst destruction in living memory. Rainfall in some places was the highest in over a century. Patna saw unprecedented flooding and evacuation, with even Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi and his family having to be rescued on a lifeboat. Floods are great levellers, and though there is always the talk of addressing their threat and keeping the system ready to tackle them, every year, every government is found wanting in the task. Before Bihar and UP, it was Karnataka and Maharashtra which were badly hit by floods, and other states suffered before them.

Climate change is a reality, but we are still unable to recognise it and take preventive and mitigating steps. It is beyond the ability of any single nation to address the problem, but governments and administrations can still take steps to reduce the impact. None of our cities have well-designed and well-constructed sewage and drainage channels which can take rain and flood waters away. The size and spread of cities and shortage of funds are often cited as reasons for the inability to put flood-resistant infrastructure in place. The designation as ‘smart cities’ did not help some of the cities to meet the flood threat or other challenges from nature. Poor management of lakes, riverbanks and flood plains are another factor contributing to flooding. The causes of flooding and the steps needed to control them are all known but there is hardly any action on them. More and more lives are lost and repair and rebuilding expenses mount every year.

Adding to the difficulties in coping with the situation is the changing nature of the monsoons, other natural phenomena like cyclones and heat waves and other weather events. These have not been fully understood till now and the changes have made them all the more difficult to tackle. The monsoon was deficient in June, above normal in July and excessive in August and September, making nonsense of all meteorological predictions. This has hit the farming schedule and cycles, and standing crops and kharif output will be affected. There will be impact on prices, and it is already being seen. This will also present challenges, sometimes calling for contradictory responses.

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