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Faulty flood policy demands revision

Faulty flood policy demands revision
Rivers represent civilisations, as has been scripted from time immemorial. But, all hell broke loose, when people started thinking that to change the discourse of civilisations – they must change the course of rivers. In India, the Mughals and the British found embankment as a useful method to counter the flood caused by rivers. The British were driven by monetary success. When they came to India, they decided to cultivate cash crops like indigo and opium in Assam and Bihar. But, it was the deluge – the curse of the river-god as believed by the locals – which caused heavy loss to their revenues. But, they knew the checks to conquer nature: They made embankments on both sides of the rivers, to have more crops even in the previously marooned flood-depredated terrains. As a result, till this date – instead of rivers, embankments stand as the symbol of civilisation. While the politicians claim embankments as an evident sign of prosperity, the private players advocate for it to make more and more money through construction as well as maintenance contracts. Surprisingly, in 2007, the Bihar government's data claimed that there was a sharp decline in deaths and damages since the construction of the embankment on River Kosi in 1954. But, in the very next year – the wrath of nature in form of the Kosi catastrophe pooh-poohed the government's claims in a single day, claiming more than 1500 lives. In Assam, where deaths or damage has not systematically changed over time, some major devastation has occurred during the largest floods – caused by the 'levee effect', in which people dare to live and build close to rivers with an unwarranted sense of enhanced safety. The time has come that governments of respective states, in accordance with the Central Government, should sit together to draft a full proof plan that would analyse the role of embankments in the worst flood situations. Besides providing proper places of shelter to the displaced, the policies might include floodplain zoning and possible relocation of the most vulnerable people, enforcement of the existing building code to make sure that the construction is robust, providing insurance, better warnings, tackling refugees and spreading education. Incidentally, the flood prone areas of Bihar, Bengal and Assam are also in the high-sensitive seismic zones. The rivers of these states have high beds due to landslides at their places of origin in the Himalayas and heavy silting in its due course. This causes rivers to overflow more rapidly resulting in a subsequent deluge with heavy rains. The fact is that these states will always be flood-prone, and floods will get larger as the climate changes because of the greenhouse effect. But better and comprehensive flood-control measures, along with better maintenance of embankments to limit breaches, could significantly reduce the inflicted death and damage.

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