Washed out: On the floods in eastern and western India

The floods that have ravaged parts of eastern and western India, leaving at least 600 people dead and displacing thousands, highlight the need for a massive capacity-building programme to deal with frequent, destructive weather events. A monsoon deluge is not an uncommon occurrence in the subcontinent, and there is considerable variability in the duration and frequency of rainfall in different regions. Moreover, there is a clear trend of even drought-prone regions in Gujarat and Rajasthan encountering floods, in addition to the traditional axis covering States along the Brahmaputra and the Ganga. What people in the flood-hit regions expect of governments is speedy relief and rehabilitation. Alleviating financial losses is crucial for a return to normality, and the Centre has announced a solatium for the next of kin of those who have died. But there are other actions people need on the ground: short-term housing, food, safe water, access to health care and protection for women, children and the elderly. Given the weak foundations of social support in policymaking, these factors have an aggravated impact during natural calamities. It is dismaying that some States have not been able to use disaster relief funds as intended, and the Centre has asked them to set off the unutilised portion when making fresh claims. Such a wrangle is unseemly at a time when people need relief.

Catastrophic events, such as the Chennai flood of 2015, also necessitate a review of the protocol followed by State governments in controlling flows from dams and reservoirs. Apparently, much of the waters that have inundated parts of Jalore in Rajasthan flowed from a dam that was opened to relieve pressure, catching many by surprise. A review of the deployment of National Disaster Response Force teams near waterbodies and their experience, together with data compiled by the Central Water Commission, is bound to reveal the hotspots where better management and, perhaps, additional reservoirs, can mitigate damage. Such studies should not be delayed, considering that official data put together by the Centre show that even in the past four years, between 1,000 and 2,100 people have died annually, while losses to crops, public utilities and houses touched ₹33,000 crore in one of the years. Governments cannot legitimately expect that people with marginal incomes will take calamitous losses in their stride, with neither social support nor financial instruments available to rebuild lives. Sustained economic growth needs action on both fronts. It is essential also to look at the public health dimension: many without the coping capacity develop mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of such catastrophes, and need counselling. A vigorous monsoon is vital for the economy, but governments should be prepared to deal with the consequences of excess rainfall.

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 6:26:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/washed-out/article19397927.ece

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