Hard lessons from the floods

Published: Aug 12, 2019, 06:00 IST | Dharmendra Jore |

A week-long natural calamity and its mitigation, be it rescue or relief management, warrant a comprehensive review that should translate into a whitepaper-like document for meeting similar eventualities in the future

Dharmendra JoreA devastating flood situation in Western Maharashtra's Krishna basin has exposed chinks in the armour of river management and caused unprecedented destruction of agriculture, cattle stock and immovable property. This will have a long-lasting bearing on the livelihood of the southern part of the state which has been self-reliant and richer than the rest of Maharashtra. The damage is bad news for the hotbed of sugar and dairy cooperatives when the country's economy is not doing as expected.

Delay in reaching out to the victims, if any, must be blamed on the government. The ruling parties shouldn't shy away from owning mismanagement notwithstanding its political fall-out ahead of the Assembly polls. A week-long natural calamity and its mitigation, be it rescue or relief management, warrant a comprehensive review that should translate into a whitepaper-like document for meeting similar eventualities in the future.

Let's not waste space here discussing the vote-politics that has happened over the floods. There are more important things that need to be brought to the government and opposition's notice. Working together as a sincere team can only save us the doom in the coming years that will see even more erratic weather patterns and an unreliable forecast.

Dam it!
There are reports from the most affected Kolhapur and Sangli districts that the forecast of heavy rainfall in the Sahyadri (Western Ghats)  ranges, in particular, Mahabaleshwar, which received more rainfall than Cherrapunji, wasn't taken very seriously by the dam managers and local administration. Over two dozen rivers originate in this part of the Western Ghats.

Mahabaleshwar continued to get more rains in the last week of July and the first week of August. It increased the reservoir levels manifold. The Koyna dam which was 50 per cent empty by then filled up fully in just five days. This happened for the first since the project started accumulating water. When they were full, the Koyna, Radhanagari and other dams increased their water discharge in the downstream that spread out wildly to the hundreds of villages and urban centres like Sangli and Kolhapur where the rainfall received was much lesser than the ghat region.

In no time, the Krishna and Panchganga turned into the merciless killers. They caught a huge population unawares. The regions had faced worst in the 2005 floods but that incident became history because this year's devastation has no parallel. The bigger dams like Alamatti in Karnataka receive water from upstream Krishna in Maharashtra. As a result, the Alamatti storage also rises to an alarming level and its backwater slows the river flow in Maharashtra. It further prolongs the flood situation upstream. The only way to fasten upstream flow is the discharging of water from the dams that are built downstream. But it needs a great deal of inter-state coordination and a timely effort that can help water to recede.

Here lies a lesson for the Maharashtra administration and their political bosses who were caught off guard because they hadn't developed standard operating procedures for preparedness. There should be no denying this fact. If the previous government didn't do anything in this regard, it is fair on our part to question the five-year-old BJP
government's failure in doing something substantial for floodwater management.

Prepare or perish
The most urgent need in the times of erratic climate change is water resource management when it rains cats and dogs. In the recent time, parts of Maharashtra have been receiving the year's total rainfall in three to five days and some regions haven't had longer wide-spread spells. When the dams in MMR and Western Maharashtra are overflowing this monsoon, the projects in Marathwada and Vidarbha haven't added a substantial quantity to their storage. A river-linking project could be a solution to the problem that creates a drought-like situation. Currently, cloud seeding is being experimented without much success in the dry-spell regions.

Going back to Western Maharashtra's issue (which other parts of the state may also face if we lack coordination with the neighbouring states), we need to have inter-state machinery working around the year for managing the basins such as the Krishna, Godavari and Tapti, and major interstate rivers. We immediately need a joint initiative to be participated by Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh that should share real-time data of water storage and discharge and rivers flow patterns. Respective state administrations, weather bureau, rural and urban bodies that govern flood-prone areas and disaster management agencies, law and order apparatus should also be made stakeholders of the project.

So far, serious environmental violations have been ignored by the successive governments. People continue to have their homes in the prohibited danger zones. River beds have been weakened because of illegal sand mining. The currents change and water spreads out to the plains when the rivers are silt-heavy. Desilting could be one of the solutions. Laws must be enforced if violations continue in association with local bigwigs.

As an immediate measure, the Maharashtra government should expedite measures to bring hope to the people who have lost their livelihood and family members. Politics can wait. Rebuilding families can't.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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