Not excess water, but neglected embankment caused the flood
India has blamed the previous seven breaches on the Kosi embankment on Nepal releasing water from the barrage at Bhimnagar, even though Nepal has no control over the sluice gates. All the earlier breaches had occurred downstream of the barrage. But this year the breach happened upstream of the barrage and the flow was less than what normally is during floods. So what caused the flood this time?
It is a clear indication of lack of maintenance of the embankment, says D K Mishra, water expert and former Bihar engineer, who has been studying the Kosi since 1984. India is responsible for the upkeep of the embankment and the barrage on the Kosi in Nepal, under the Indo-Nepal Kosi treaty of 1954. "No one is talking about the silt load and the impact it could have on the embankment. The Kosi has an annual silt load of 94,400 acre feet. The embankment, which was build to hold 0.95 million cusecs of water, gave way when water was less than 0.14 million cusecs," says Mishra.
The day the breach occurred, the water in the Kosi was 0.134 million cusecs at the breach point, while usually the river has 0.4 million cusecs during floods, according to Bihar's Water Resources Department.
Anup Upadhyay, spokesperson for Nepal's Water Resources Department, said, "This is not a natural disaster as India is making it out to be. They did not carry out the repair work on the barrage and the embankment on time." Nepal's Prime Minister Parchanda said the Kosi treaty that invests the entire responsibility of design, construction, operation and management of the Kosi project for 199 years in Indian hands, was "a historic blunder".
Former water resources minister of Nepal, Dipak Gyawali, told a newspaper that "the Kosi treaty is not right for managing this kind of trans-boundary river system". Gyawali said it left Nepal "absolutely no room to do anything except allow India to quarry all the boulders". In case it senses an emergency to repair embankments, Nepal can only contact the Bihar government.
According to Upadhyay, Nepal had been informing the Bihar government for long that the embankment needed repair. "The Indian engineers who were supposed to come in the lean season, that is winters, did not come then. The Kosi treaty specifies it is the Indian government that investigates and estimates the charges. The problem of maintenance has been there for long and perhaps since the maintenance cost was too high, the Bihar government did not take any step," he said.
In the past Bihar has conveniently blamed "not just the Nepalese government and the Maoists, but also rats and foxes for breaches in embankment," says Mishra. "The allegation that Nepal could have released water from the barrage is also wrong, since it is the engineers from Bihar who are posted at the barrage and are responsible for managing the sluice gates," says Anupam Mishra, a Gandhian and an environmental activist.
Building embankments and the barrage, experts say, not only reduced Nepal to a bystander, it was also not the right response to curb floods in the turbulent Kosi. "The river flows down very steep peaks of the Himalayas, has a lot of current and carries a lot of sediments. It will not be wise to try contain the river either through embankments or a high dam as proposed at Barahkshetra in 1947," explains Anupam Mishra. He suggests a simple solution of investing in boats and training fishermen in rescue operations. "This region has a lot of fishermen and boat makers," he says.
|Needed Swift action at the breach site|
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