Floods are becoming more complex

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

only Bihar experienced floods this year. Other places suffered water logging. The statement on the recent deluge in large parts of the country might have been dismissed as ludicrous verbiage, had it not been that of the Indian Meteorological Department's spokesperson. Ludicrous it still is. But dismiss it, we cannot. For conventional thinking has it that floods are caused by excessive rainfall. The imd spokesperson was only going by what has become a truism for many in the country's scientific establishment.

But weather has a way of making shibboleths appear what they are. That's exactly what happened this year. Except Bihar, none of the flood-hit states experienced more than normal rainfall. So the imd is correct, in a way--except that we are talking about a reality about which it has little clue. Issues like reservoir overfilling and melting glaciers have made floods much more complex than what they have been so far deemed to be. But sadly, our science and engineering organisations like imd and Central Water Commission seem to be too scared to share crucial data even among themselves.

Even more worrying is the ante-diluvian methods of these research organisations. They have stuck to old methods of research with an obduracy that does not bode well in times of far-reaching changes in climate. Research, for example, has shown that extreme rainfall events are on the rise, while the average rainfall has remained more or less constant in parts of the country. imd with its reliance on long-term averages is inept at analysing such weather quirks. Moreover we now have evidence that there is considerable irregularity in water flow due to glacial melt. But the quantity or rate of increase of flow--or the time since when this has been occurring--has not been measured as yet.

The government's response was also on fixed lines. Herd people into relief camps, air drop food and provisions. Don't make any mistake. Relief and rehabilitation is necessary. But it's their knee-jerk character that's in question. If floods are an almost annual occurrence why don't we have an effective mechanism to predict them? After every major flood--or any other natural calamity--committees are constituted and reports are submitted only to gather dust on the tables of government officials. Cynics might say that this will happen again after this year's floods. Let's hope they are wrong--at least this time.

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