Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bihar Floods Special Issue on EPW

Floods are a perennial problem in Bihar. The very same water source that acts as the life-blood for the agriculture-dependent population in the state, turns into an avalanche of death and misery every year. And every year, as this natural disaster strikes, it evokes temporary attention to the plight of the victims and soon to be forgotten government commissions and helicopter visits by the bourgeois polity. But once the shock value of the images fades away, all is forgotten even if misery is compounded and the people are made to brace up for the next year's natural fury. Such is the case of floods in Bihar. The Kosi river- a dynamic, sediment carrying water body is particularly driven to course-changes and therefore to put paid any plans to tame the river (through the embankment strategy that has been adopted for years). That the fact that this river originates across national borders in Nepal makes the problem even more complicated. Four experts - whose intros are provided in the post- with substantial understanding of the problem through different forms of expertise weigh on the Kosi tragedy and the perennial woes of river management and floods. They even venture to offer solutions. Following are the links to these articles published in the Economic and Political Weekly.


Floods, Himalayan Rivers, Nepal: Some Heresies
Ramaswamy R Iyer

The strategy of building embankments to constrain river flow and to prevent floods in north Bihar has proven to be questionable and flawed. Reliance on a dam-and-reservoir system for that purpose only offers limited protection and even greater risks of flooding in case of damage. Learning to cope with floods and managing a transition to a system that does not rely upon the embankments any more seems to be the rational course of action.

Ramaswamy R Iyer (ramaswamy.iyer@gmail. com) is with the Centre for Policy Research and has written extensively on issues related to water.

Management of Floods in Bihar
C P Sinha

A combination of short- and long-term measures that gives importance to both structural (traditional) means and non-structural techniques is required to solve the perennial flood problem in north Bihar.

C P Sinha (c_p_sinha@rediffmail.com) headed the Second Bihar State Irrigation Commission and was also associated with Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee.

Kosi: Rising Waters, Dynamic Channels and Human Disasters
Rajiv Sinha

The recent Kosi floods have proved once again that inadequate control measures have been responsible for the recurring disasters. Typically flood control and riverine studies focus on hydrological information, whereas a much more integrated approach that pays attention to specific morphological factors is required. Since Kosi is a dynamic river with a unique morphology and because it is a river which has always carried high sediment loads, flood management strategies must be attuned to such specific parameters of the river, besides being much more than mere “river control” through embankments.

Rajiv Sinha (rsinha@iitk.ac.in) is with the Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

The Kosi and the Embankment Story
Dinesh Kumar Mishra

The Kosi afflux bundh breached in Kusaha in Nepal on 18 August 2008. This was the eighth incident of its kind and the first time did a breach occur upstream of the Kosi Barrage. The ones in 1968 and 1984 were no less disastrous but this year’s breach has generated the most concern and its international dimension has added an edge. In an effective life of 45 years, the embankments have remained intact for 37 years. What happens to the people who have suffered the wrath of the river nearly five times more than those in the areas protected by the embankments?

Dinesh Kumar Mishra (dkmishra108@gmail.com) has been working on water-related issues in Bihar for many years and is the convenor of the Barh Mukti Abhiyan, a civil society organisation working with the people living in flood-prone areas in the region.

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