India Floods, again: What Happened and Why

A detailed look at the damage caused by the flash floods in 2019

Image Courtesy: PTI

Deadly Flooding in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
Thousands Displaced by Floods in Rajasthan
45,000 Displaced by Floods in Madhya Pradesh
Heavy Rain and Floods Cause Major Disruption in Mumbai
More Flooding in Odisha after 600mm of Rain in 24 Hours
Airport Closed, 20,000 Evacuated as Floods Hit Kerala

These glaring headlines making the news portray just some of the flood disasters that have taken place in India this year.

Just in the past week alone, at least 21 people were killed and nine others were stated to be missing after Pune and neighboring areas were hit by heavy rain and flash floods. Floodwaters swept across the Pune-Bengaluru highway and washed away cars. Around 150 homes had been damaged and more than 28,000 people across the state of Maharashtra were evacuated from their homes and housed in temporary camps.

In June 2019, over 700 people had been moved to relief camps in the state of Assam, after flooding caused by the overflowing Brahmaputra, Barak and Jia Bhoreli rivers. According to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), till 26 June 2019, flooding had affected around 5,000 people in 12 villages.

A red alert was issued in Assam on 15 July as 4,300,000 people across 30 of the state’s 33 districts were affected by floods. 15 have died and 80,000 were sheltering in 494 camps. There are still serious issues and complaints about inadequate rehabilitation with relation to the Assam floods.

Twelve districts in Bihar were badly affected by floods. A total of 2,000,000 people had been affected and 1,100,000 people displaced by the flood waters in 55 blocks in nine out of the 12 affected districts. September saw the second round of devastation in the state that had seen floods ravaging homes, villages and neighbourhoods in July, too. The state disaster management department had then said 82.12 lakh people under 1,241 panchayats of 106 blocks in the 13 districts have been affected by the flood and relief and rehabilitation work is going on in full swing.

In July 2019, heavy rainfall caused the breach of the Tiware Dam in Maharashtra, resulting in 18 deaths.

As of August 2, 2019, national authorities reported 5 fatalities in Vadodara City (Gujarat State), and over 5,700 evacuated as Vishwamitri river breached its banks and flooded the area.

It was also reported on August 10, 2019 that incessant rains coupled with the strong wind in Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra led to 76 deaths. Localised flooding also was reported from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh. In Kerala, 40 people were feared to be trapped under debris after a major landslide occurred in Malappuram district.

Torrential rains also triggered flash floods in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarkhand. At least 23 people had been killed in Himachal Pradesh, while 3 died and 22 were missing following a cloudburst in Uttarakhand. Over 670 roads, including 13 national highways were blocked across Himachal Pradesh, which received 1,065% higher than normal ‘single day rainfall’ on 18 August. Uttarakhand recorded a surplus of 159% in 24 hours with water, electricity and communication facilities being affected.

Punjab, which is popularly called the food bowl of India, had also been hit hard by the recent floods. The situation in parts of Punjab and Haryana remained grim, prompting the Punjab government to declare the flood situation in the affected villages of the state a natural calamity.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescued more than 4,000 people from flood waters in Patna two days ago.

Voices of the Stranded
“Water enters our houses and destroys everything. We stay in the same difficult situation without food and water. If someone falls sick, women suffer in labour pain or someone gets in serious condition, we call people and wait for them for help. Every year we face these challenges”, shared Pabitra Chetri from Dejoo Sapori village under North Lakhimpur district of Assam.

Ravi Ranjan, who lives in Kankarbagh, in Patna, said, “Everything is under water, there is only water everywhere, all the cars are submerged, all the schools and offices are closed because of this rain. We can’t go out we can only see water everywhere.”

Another flood victim in Hamirpur’s Kuchecha village, 65-year-old Ram Sakhi told India Today TV that houses and crops of all the residents, including her, in the village have been damaged due to the floods. She said “no one is there” to help the flood-affected residents in the village.

Another survivor, Brajesh, said, “There is no route to enter these villages and even the boats cannot go due to the strong flow of water from both Yamuna and Betwa rivers. Crops have been damaged here and most of the people living in these villages have been shifted to other areas with their belongings and cattle.”
Akan Gowala, 30, and seven family members spent 27 days in a relief camp in the Jamuguri area of flood-ravged Golaghat. “My house is half-buried in slush”, he said racked by fever, cough and a skin infection.

Why Did the Flash Floods Happen in India?
The timeline of extreme natural calamities started from May when a powerful cyclone roared through Odisha with wind speeds of up to 130 mph. It was the most dangerous storm in recent years.

Weather website El Dorado said that out of the 15 places that had received the most rainfall across the globe on the day of August 11, eight were in India. Naliya, a town in Gujarat, received a record 10.3 inch rainfall, followed by Okha (Gujarat, 6.54 inch), Rajkot (Gujarat, 5.83 inch), Mahabaleshwar (Maharashtra, 5.59 inch), Cochin (Kerala, 4.97 inch), Alappuzha (Kerala, 4.45 inch) and Kozhikode (Kerala, 4.57 inch).

Scientists say that the effects of such events would be higher in the future due to the loss of natural infrastructure as well as the ever-expanding human settlements. Multi-decade rain deficit to rising temperatures have shaken up the usual weather patterns. The ministry of earth sciences, India, has also confirmed that the year 2018 was the sixth warmest year on record since nation-wide records commenced in 1901. However, it was lower than the warmest year of 2016.

According to the report by the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), in its sectoral and regional analysis for the 2030s, rise in temperatures would increase flood events in frequency during the end of the century. The report stated, Temperatures in the Himalayan region are projected to rise up to 2.6 degrees Celsius and also increase in intensity by 2-12 per cent by 2030s. This will result in increased flash floods events leading to large scale landslides and loss of agriculture area affecting food security.

The trend of deficient rainfall and floods has been a worrying one.

According to the IMD, on July 6, when Baksa district in Assam was flooding, the deficit in North East was 38 per cent.

From June 20 to June 26, Mumbai had received only 8.4 mm rainfall, a deficit of 95 per cent. But, extreme rainfall in the last week of June caused floods in the city.

Kerala, which experienced floods killing more than 500 people, last year also faced a dormant monsoon before the rains began, which did not stop for almost two weeks.

Global rainfall data for over the last century also shows an alarming trend. While the number of rainy days is decreasing, intense rainfall events of 10 – 15 centimeter per day are increasing. This means that more amount of water is pouring down in a lesser time.

How is the increase in the frequency of extreme events sustained despite a weakened monsoon circulation and a decrease in the number of depressions over central India?

Widespread extreme rain events over Central India have increased three-fold in the 66-year period between 1950 and 2015, showed a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Inferring from a few studies, the report states that the rise in extreme rainfall events over central India is due to an increase in the moisture content, which they link to the rapid warming of the Indian Ocean. Other studies suggest that the local surface warming of the Indian subcontinent and the corresponding rise in humidity levels have a role in the increasing frequency of events.

What Does the Future Hold for Us?
It is a gross and devastating irony that people praying for some rainfall all over the country, were soon reeling under a deluge.

Extreme events may be the most tangible and immediate impact of climate change, but another more long-term and equally dangerous effect is rising temperatures. If climate change continues unhindered, then average temperatures in India could reach as high as 29.1° C by the end of the century (up from 25.1° C currently).

A region’s vulnerability to temperature changes depends on several factors such as access to infrastructure (electricity, roads and water connections) and dependence on agriculture. According to the World Bank, central districts in India are the most vulnerable to climate change because they lack the infrastructure and are largely agrarian. Within this region, the districts in Maharasthra’s Vidarbha region are particularly susceptible to climate change damage.

Climate change has also manifested itself in the form of extreme temperatures. In cities, which are epicenters of economic activity, rising temperatures can increase the spread of diseases and hurt productivity. And, in coastal cities, climate change-induced rising sea levels also pose an additional threat through more frequent flooding.

Despite significant outlay on flood control, flood protection and catchment protection works, it has been found that there is no complete solution to providing total protection. Flood cushions in the reservoirs and flood embankments have provided good solutions for recurring floods and have provided relief to large-scale flood damage.



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