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Data Point | Looking back at three devastating floods in India

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Traffic moves as water is pumped out of an inundated residential area following torrential rains in Bengaluru, India, September 7, 2022.

Traffic moves as water is pumped out of an inundated residential area following torrential rains in Bengaluru, India, September 7, 2022. | Photo Credit: SAMUEL RAJKUMAR

Recounting and quantifying the floods in India between 1953 and 2020 that caused the most destruction to property and led to loss of lives

In September, floods wreaked havoc across three Indian cities. In Bengaluru, hefty rainfall during the first week of the month resulted in traffic bottlenecks, power outages, and flooded houses and offices that brought the Silicon Valley of India to a standstill. Some days later, heavy overnight rainfall flooded different parts of Hyderabad. Similar was the case in Pune, where flash floods and water logging paralysed parts of the city. The recent floods have brought attention to the damage they cause to human lives, with property destroyed and work-cycles interrupted.

While the floods in these cities have caused significant damage, data shows that India is no stranger to such events and has witnessed far worse rain-related calamities in its history.

The destructive power of flood waters is difficult to measure because they affect people in different ways. To a farmer, losing crops. To a dairy owner, losing cattle. To a homeowner, losing a house. And above all, to all of them and others, losing their dear ones. Yet, here we took into account three parameters — number of human lives lost, number of cattle lost and number of houses damaged — to quantify the intensity of the destruction caused by heavy rains and floods in various parts of the country between 1953 and 2020.

Lives lost

Heavy rains and floods resulted in 11,316 human deaths in 1977— the highest number for any year between 1953 and 2020. Other than this year, the death toll due to floods had never crossed even the 5,000 mark in the considered period.

In 1977, the number of human lives lost owing to heavy rains and floods stood at 11,316, the highest number for any year between 1953 and 2020. In fact, other than 1977, the death toll due to floods had never crossed even the 5,000 mark for any year in the period. Of those 11,316 deaths that year, as many as 9,974 were lost just in Andhra Pradesh — a figure which forms 8% of the total flood-related fatalities in the 67 years put together, considered for this analysis. The significance of this can be understood by comparing the second-highest number in the period. In 1968, West Bengal recorded 2,730 flood-related deaths — the second-highest in the period. The gap between the two numbers shows the extent of damage in Andhra Pradesh in 1977. 

In 1977, Andhra Pradesh faced the most devastating cyclone in history, in terms of human lives lost and the number of cattle lost. According to a front-page article in The Hindu, on November 15, 1977, a cyclone hit the coast of Tamil Nadu. The low-pressure area over the South Andaman sea intensified into a deep depression and centred about 1,450 km southeast of erstwhile Madras. While the cyclone receded in the State and skipped erstwhile Madras city, it hit the coast of Andhra Pradesh on November 19. More than 900 people were killed in the floods by November 21, while the death toll crossed the 8,000-mark the very next day.

A heart-wrenching picture published on the front page of The Hindu’s Hyderabad edition that day, showed an old man, having lost his hut and belongings, sitting in front of the image of “Lord Rama’‘ in the backdrop of the debris.

Having lost his hut and other belongings, a person in Krishna Lanka in Vijayawada sits amidst a backdrop of damaged huts, looking at what has remained for him, a picture of Lord Rama, to pin his hopes and begin life anew.

Having lost his hut and other belongings, a person in Krishna Lanka in Vijayawada sits amidst a backdrop of damaged huts, looking at what has remained for him, a picture of Lord Rama, to pin his hopes and begin life anew.

On November 27, Education Minister of the State Krishna Rao sent his letter of resignation from the Cabinet to the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister J. Vengal Rao. He stated that he could serve his constituency Divi (Krishna district), an area severely hit by the cyclone, better as a worker than as a Minister. 

From The Hindu archives: The victims of the Andhra cyclone who trekked to Nagoyolanko village in Divi Taluk seen comforting each other. They lost their near relatives in the havoc (November 22, 1977)

From The Hindu archives: The victims of the Andhra cyclone who trekked to Nagoyolanko village in Divi Taluk seen comforting each other. They lost their near relatives in the havoc (November 22, 1977)

Soon after,  five more Ministers of Andhra Pradesh resigned from the State Cabinet on the issue of “mismanagement of the cyclone situation in the State” on December 2, 1977. The destruction caused by the floods was so intense that the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, declared it a national calamity.

 Loss of livestock

While the death toll was the highest in 1977, livestock loss due to heavy rains and floods was the highest in 1979, with 6.18 lakh cattle being lost in the country. Cattle deaths in Andhra Pradesh (3 lakh) in 1979, accounted for almost 5% of the total flood-related cattle lives lost (61.8 lakh) in the 67-year period considered for analysis. Yet this was not the highest count of cattle lost in a year for Andhra Pradesh, as in 1977, the State recorded 5 lakh cattle deaths — the highest in a year for any State. 

A cyclone that hit Andhra Pradesh less than two years after the 1977 disaster destroyed a lot of livestock. However, this time, human lives were preserved. 

On May 12, 1979, The Hindu reported that a cyclone was likely to hit the Nellore district of  Andhra Pradesh. By May 13, over one lakh people were evacuated from the low-lying areas in Coastal Andhra, including Nellore, Prakasam, Guntur and Krishna. No loss of life was reported on that day. Between May 14 and May 18, while the number of human lives lost was kept under control, it was the loss of cattle, damage to crops and infrastructural destruction which headlined the news. 

Damage to infrastructure (houses damaged)

Floods damaged 39.6 lakh houses in India in 2015 — the highest number of houses destroyed due to floods in any year between 1953 and 2020. Only twice, in 1978 and 2007, did flood-related house damages cross the 30-lakh mark. In 2015, of the 39.6 lakh houses destroyed, Tamil Nadu accounted for 30.1 lakh.

In 2015, hefty rainfall hit Tamil Nadu in the first week of November. On November 2, 2015, The Hindu reported how the monsoons in Chennai exposed the defects in infrastructural planning in the city. (Picture: November 2, Page 3, Chennai edition)

Between November 12 and 18, many reports discussed problems of urban planning, where waterlogging and damaged roads in residential areas forced residents to raise the levels of their houses to prevent flooding.

Over 130 spots in the city were declared inundation-prone. While people in Chennai had hoped for the floods to recede, on November 23, an hour-long downpour choked the city once again. On the same day, the death of a 23-year-old man in house-collapse made headlines in The Hindu. Residents living in the street explained that while the building was old, the heavy rains that lashed the city had expedited the collapse of the building. 

Fortnightly figures

Around 30% was the growth in gross direct tax collections till September 17 of the current fiscal year on higher advance tax mop-up buoyed by the economic revival post-pandemic, the Finance Ministry informed. Gross collection of direct taxes for 2022-23 stands at ₹8,36,225 crore compared to ₹6,42,287 crore in the year-ago period, the ministry informed in a statement. This includes revenue from Corporate Income Tax of ₹4.36 lakh crore and Personal Income Tax (PIT) of ₹3.98 lakh crore.

Around 7% was India’s retail inflation in August, surging from 6.71% in July, fuelled by a 7.62% pick-up in food prices paid by consumers, even as industrial production growth in July had dropped to the lowest level since April at just 2.4%, with output levels dropping 2.75% month-on-month. This is the eighth successive month that retail inflation has stayed above the central bank’s upper tolerance threshold of 6% inflation for the economy, and constitutes a setback to households’ spending power among the poorer sections of the population. 

8 of the 11 Congress MLAs in the Goa Assembly defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, on September 14, 2022. In a sudden turn of events, the coastal State witnessed another bout of political musical chairs as two-thirds of the Congress’s strength in the Assembly — moved to the BJP in a replay of the defections in 2019. The ruling party has succeeded in splitting the Congress twice in three years in the State, this time despite the loyalty pledges that all 37 Congress candidates took ahead of the February Assembly election in the presence of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at a temple, a dargah and a church vowing not to defect to other parties regardless of the poll result.

24 years after playing competitive tennis, winning 20 Grand Slam singles titles and re-defining the sport with his artistry and grace, 41-year-old Swiss professional tennis player, Roger Federer, announced his retirement from competitive tennis after the Laver Cup scheduled on September 23, 2022, in London. A knee injury meant he has not played a match since losing at last year’s Wimbledon, although many still hoped he could come back for one last golden farewell. But the player, regarded by many as the greatest male player to wield a tennis racket, said his age had finally caught up with him.

70 years after reigning on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain passed away at Balmoral aged 96. She was the longest-serving monarch in British history. Her son Charles, 73, will be proclaimed King at a centuries-old ceremony. The crown automatically passes to the heir the moment the sovereign dies, before the proclamation ceremony.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2022 4:39:27 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/data/looking-back-at-three-devastating-floods-in-india/article65910263.ece