Why wait for the deluge?

| Updated on June 14, 2011 Published on June 09, 2011

Disaster preparedness on all counts should be accorded far more importance than it has received so far.

The onset of the monsoon once again raises questions about the level of disaster-preparedness in the face of floods. While global warming has raised the likelihood and severity of extreme weather occurrences everywhere, the loss to life and property is likely to be more pronounced in the developing world. Floods have wreaked unprecedented havoc in rural and urban India in recent years — be it the turbulent Kosi in Bihar in 2008, the floods in the Krishna basin in 2009 or the submergence of Mumbai in July 2005. An estimated 40 million hectares in India are prone to flooding. The Mumbai floods spurred the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which spelt out the institutional framework to prepare for calamities, and respond to them.

In a welcome move, the apex policy-making body on disaster management, the National Disaster Management Authority, came out with a separate set of guidelines last September year to deal with urban flooding, a serious issue in its own right in view of the rapid urbanisation and unplanned development over the last decade. Since then, the Centre, the States and district administrations have held meetings on the implementation of the guidelines, involving 14 Central departments and Ministries, as well as the chiefs of the Defence forces. But for all the high-level commitment there is no perceptible change on the ground, perhaps because the government is not in the habit of taking pre-emptive measures.

Many of these measures do not cost much, but can play a critical role in minimising damage. For instance, large cities need many more rain gauges to provide timely information on the impact of heavy rainfall in a certain area; this is particularly in view of rainfall variations within a city. After the 2005 floods, Mumbai acquired 35-40 rain gauges, but even these may not be enough, given the global norm of one gauge for every four square kilometres. Other cities are worse off. A rain gauge costs about Rs 1 lakh, which is well worth the long-term savings it can bring. More rain gauges are required in the rural areas as well, as was brought out in the Krishna floods of 2009, when the authorities were unaware that a large area in Andhra Pradesh had received over 1,000 mm of rain in 24 hours. Each major city needs a Doppler radar, which, with its range of over 300 km, can provide three to six hours of lead time in the event of a flood. India has only seven such radars, whereas the disaster managers had planned for 55 some years back. At a cost of Rs 14-16 crore, there should have been more Doppler radars in place. With this basic equipment, educational institutes can be involved in capacity building at the community level. The IMD and the States can use the technology to map vulnerable areas. Disaster preparedness on all counts should be accorded far more importance than it has received so far.

Published on June 09, 2011
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