Intense Flooding

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    In News 

    There has been an increase in the magnitude, the frequency and the intensity of floods in many parts of the world. 

    • Nearly a third of Pakistan is experiencing devastation, with a spread of diseases and severe shortage of potable water after intense flooding. 

    Major Events 

    • In June 2022 Assam experienced one of its worst floods in living memory which affected over 30 districts. 
      • In some districts in Assam and Bihar, flooding is a recurrent feature which is a major impediment in ensuring poverty alleviation and meeting Millennium Development Goals.
    • In September 2022, 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. 

    Reasons 

    • Environmental factor :Due to climate change and global warming, global weather patterns are becoming unpredictable which is causing floods in some areas and drought in other areas.
    • Information sharing : Flooding is still considered to be a natural phenomenon that cannot be entirely prevented. But it is compounded by the lack of transparency in the sharing of hydrological information and also information relating to activities (such as by one riparian state) that are transboundary in their effect (affecting other riparian states), thus serving as an obstacle in understanding the magnitude of flooding.
    • China Factor : There is the case of China being the upper riparian in the Brahmaputra, which spans India and Bangladesh, enjoying apparent leverage vis-à-vis lower riparian India. 
    • China’s excessive water release, as a “dam controller”, in violation of customary international law has the potential to exacerbate flooding in Assam in future.
    • India’s main concern is that there is no comprehensive sub-basin or all basin-level mechanism to deal with water management of Brahmaputra. 
    • India-China are not  party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNWC) 1997 or the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes 1992 (Water Convention).
    • In the absence of any mechanism, India relies on its memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China in 2013 with a view to sharing hydrological information during the flood season (June to September). 
      • The MoU does not allow India access to urbanisation and deforestation activities on the Chinese side of the river basin. 
    • Nepal : Floods are also a recurrent problem in the Koshi and Gandak river basins that are shared by India and Nepal. 
      • The intensity and magnitude of flooding is rising because of heavy seasonal precipitation as well as glacial retreat due to global warming and human-induced stressors such as land use and land cover changes in the river basin area of Nepal (Terai) and Bihar.

    Consequences

    • Major cities in India have witnessed loss of life and property, disruption in transport and power and incidence of epidemics. 
    • Flooding can destroy or severely damage assets like automobiles, public utilities, and electrical grids, lead to excessive air pollution due to crawling traffic, and cause other economic losses. 
    • It can have serious economic consequences: Excessive rains ruin crops — a serious matter in agriculture-driven nations where food prices are dictated by availability.

    Status of Customary international law

    • In accordance with customary international law, no state has to use its territory in a manner that causes harm to another state while using a shared natural resource; this amounts to saying that there is a binding obligation on all states not to release water to cause floods in other co-sharer of the river water.
      • This obligation gives rise to other procedural norms that support the management of floods, which include notification of planned measures, the exchange of data and information, and also public participation.
    • The International Court of Justice (ICJ), in the Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina vs Uruguay) case (2010), upheld that conducting a transboundary environmental impact assessment (TEIA) of a planned measure or projects on the shared water course is part of customary international law.
      • In fact, the ICJ noted that the acting state must notify the affected party of the results of TEIA to “enable the notified party to participate in the process of ensuring that the assessment is complete, so that it can then consider the plan and its effects with a full knowledge of the facts”.
    • The India-Nepal Koshi agreement 1954 (revised in 1966) is aimed at reducing devastating flooding in the river basin. 
      • The treaty-based joint bodies have also tried to refine the early warning systems for flood forecasting.

    Conclusion and Way Forward 

    • In light of the cataclysmic floods in Pakistan and the visible effects of climate change, it is important that all riparian states must comply with all the procedural duties pursuant to the no harm rule.
      • They must also think of becoming a party to either the UNWC or the UNECE Water Convention 
    •  It is important that the  India-Nepal  view the river basins as single entities, which will help in facilitating an integrated approach for improved basin and flood risk management. 
    • Interlinking of rivers: In India, there is variability in the availability of water in different regions. Some regions are water surplus, while some are water scarce. To reduce this anomaly, the government should work on various interlinking projects
    • Planting more vegetation and trees as they reduce the speed of the water, the presence of a previous surface helps in percolation and increases the infiltration rates, hence avoiding heavy damages to life and property. 

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Describe  the major reasons of repeated occurence of floods in India , highlight the mechanisms for preparedness to reduce the risk during such events.