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Preparing for the monsoon

By Jyoti Rao

India has a love-hate relationship with the annual weather phenomenon called the  Monsoon.  With over 50 percent of the economy depending on agriculture, she can’t do without it. But what the monsoon does with India – is the other part of the story.

Too much rain and large swathes of the land are turned into virtual islands with millions displaced and not enough rain means crippling drought, with all its related downward spiralling economic and development implications. Furthermore, there may be droughts and floods in the same area. Rajasthan is a classic case in point.

80 percent of the total rainfall in India takes between June and September under the influence of south-west monsoon.  The remainder 20 percent occurs during the north-east monsoon, cyclones and local weather-related phenomena.

While the monsoon can be called an act of God, floods are not.  Floods are not inevitable; they are preventable and often the consequence of poor land planning and water management. The frequency and intensity of floods has increased in India over the years primarily because of the increased encroachment of flood plains on the one hand and discharge of excess water from dams, on the other.

Against the total of 40 million hectares prone to floods, approximately 15 million hectares have been protected by construction of embankments.  Dams and barrages have also been constructed, but sometimes these very things cause floods.

In August 2006 in Maharashtra, as many as 10 dams had to release large quantities of water within 24 hours after four days of incessant rains. As a result, over 2,000 villages in 104 taluks spread over 19 districts downstream of the dam were affected and more than 200,000 hectares of agricultural land were damaged. Around 100,000 people were affected. Flash floods in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar were similarly caused by dams upstream discharging excess water.

Floods are a perennial phenomenon it at least 5 states: Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Orissa. Many other states have of late experienced unprecedented flood levels, most recently in 2006 when multiple and massive flood emergencies badly hit several states such as Gujarat and Rajasthan, some parts of which are not normally prone to floods, and some are in fact prone to drought.

Wide-spread human and material losses, collapse of infrastructure and services (including all those for children) may be major consequences of the floods.  Hundreds of thousands may be displaced, often in isolated and not easily accessible areas.

National Plan for disaster management
This year, as on mid-June, at least 130 people have been killed in monsoon fury across India. Torrential rains have caused havoc in Maharashtra, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.

On 23 December 2005, the Government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act, which envisaged the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by the Prime Minister, and State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) headed by respective Chief Ministers, to spearhead and implement a holistic and integrated approach to Disaster Management in India.

As part of the measures to prepare for the disasters, there is an overall master plan for every state and contingency plan for each district, involving apart from other things, steps required to be taken before the onset of floods during the floods and post- flood management.

The government has in general developed capacities how to deal with flood disaster effectively. However, UNICEF’s interventions are still required in some situations. UNICEF in line with the Core Commitment to Children provides support of the government’s relief programmes during emergencies and natural calamities.

In the flood-prone areas, UNICEF aims at pre-positioning essential emergency items, which will allow for more timely and efficient response. In sudden / unexpected floods, UNICEF will make assessments prior to possible action to complement the government and other humanitarian organisations in relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Mainstreaming preparedness

In recent years, UNICEF India has initiated a strategy of mainstreaming disaster preparedness within the framework of regular programme implementation. The goal is to ensure seamless transition and synergy between the disaster and development components of its programmes.

Community based disaster preparedness (CBDP) projects have been undertaken in West Bengal for floods, landslides and cyclones/tsunamis; in Bihar preparedness is focussed mostly on floods, while in Rajasthan it has been focused on drought.

After the 2005 Mumbai floods, UNICEF Maharashtra office initiated a novel CBDP approach using micro-planning in urban slum areas which are mostly low-lying and prone to flooding.

Each of these initiatives has proven to be very useful in strengthening coping mechanisms of the vulnerable communities in preparing for, responding to and in recovering from the impacts of disasters.
 

(Mukesh Puri, PO, Emergency contributed to this article).

 

 
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