This season of rain is already becoming one of the deadliest Karnataka has seen since 2009 when large parts of northern districts were flooded.
According to the State Disaster Monitoring Authority, at least 77 people have died in rain-related incidents — floods, landslips, wall collapses during thunderstorms, and others — since this April. The bulk of the deaths have happened since August 1, when heavy rainfall in Malnad areas and swelling of the Krishna and the Tungabhadra killed 62 people. Considering that 14 people are still missing, SDRF officials said the death toll would continue to mount. Apart from this, 33 people have died in lightning strikes since pre-monsoon showers hit the State.
The first five months of the current financial year is slated to eclipse the past 10 years in terms of casualties, damage, and crop loss. A review of data submitted by the Home Affairs Ministry in the Lok Sabha shows that more than 916 people have died in rain-related incidents and over 7.6 lakh houses have been damaged since 2009. Just two years have not seen rain-related deaths in the past decade, shows the data.
While flood events may be rare, large parts of Karnataka are prone to floods. An assessment by the Working Group Report on Flood Management and Region Specific Issues for XII Plan showed that nine lakh hectares (or, 9,000 sq. km) had seen some form of floods between 1953 and 2010.
However, under the Centre’s Flood Management Programme, the State has got just Rs. 59 crore for three projects, with no new project being sanctioned in two years. For State authorities, flood management has always been eclipsed by drought management.
“Extreme flood events have been seen in 2005, 2009 and now. Whereas, almost every year the State has seen drought,” said G.S. Srinivas Reddy, director of the Karnataka State Disaster Natural Management Centre.
Advanced Centre for Integrated Water Resources Management, the State government’s water management think tank, also does not include floodwater management within its ambit. “The State can only mitigate the effects of floods, and this is getting difficult owing to encroachments and development activities on the riverbanks that remain dry for most of the year,” said an official there.
A Central Water Commission official, however, said while more could have been done for the protection of critical flooding areas, the State’s thrust to heavily dam its rivers may have lowered the magnitude of floods.
Susceptibility to landslips
Among the signs of excessive rain are landslips, which have now been observed in the State for two years consecutively. This year, at least 10 people have died in landslips while connectivity to the southern coast has been affected.
But the susceptibility of Malnad to landslips had been mapped by the Geological Society of India (GSI). Their 2017–18 report showed that over 175 sq. km in Kodagu, Hassan, Dakshina Kannada, Chikkamagaluru, and Udupi districts were “highly” susceptible to landslips, with a further 470 sq. km being moderately susceptible. Nearly 80% of the landslips in 2018 in Kodagu occurred in zones previously flagged as vulnerable, said officials.
This year too, the GSI was sending a team to investigate landslips in the region. “It is true that landslips were not considered to be important to attend to. But, things have picked up since the 2018 Kodagu floods. Local geologists are being trained, and we hope that landslip prevention measures will be done,” said K.V. Maruthi, director of GSI-Bengaluru.
A.K. Naithani, scientist from the National Institute of Rock Mechanics who is a permanent member of the Technical Evaluation Committee of the National Disaster Monitoring Authority, said while the Union government funds were now available, Karnataka was yet to submit a detailed project report on preventing landslips.
“In previous meetings on landslips, Karnataka did not send a representation. In general, landslip prevention has not been considered a priority, nor has any State developed an inter-agency approach to lower the risks of landslips,” he said.