Climate Change

North India Deluge 2023: Heavy rains in Nepal cause erosion downstream in Bihar; hundreds displaced

Soil erosion due to ascending water levels in the Koshi, Mahananda and Ganga has impacted hundreds in Bihar’s Supaul, Khagaria, Katihar, Bhagalpur and other flood-prone districts

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Wednesday 12 July 2023
File photo: Agnimirh Basu / CSE.

In the last four-five days, rising water levels in major rivers have made hundreds homeless and displaced in Bihar’s flood-prone districts. Soil erosion due to ascending water levels in the Koshi, Mahananda and Ganga has impacted hundreds in Bihar’s Supaul, Khagaria, Katihar, Bhagalpur and other flood-prone districts.

People here are forced to take shelter on nearby high-rise embankments. Severe river erosion has scared them as it threatened the existence of several villages. Dozens of houses in these regions have been washed away. The residents fear more such erosions in the coming days, with a potential rise in river water following heavy rainfall.

Villagers are also worried about the widening rivers that can swallow agricultural land, their main source of livelihood.

Bachcha Lal Kamat and Shiv Shankar Kamat, two among the dozens of river erosion victims in Supaul, have lost their houses and been displaced. “This is an annual curse; rising Koshi river swallows houses, schools, temples and agricultural lands. Every year, we have to fight for survival,” said Kamat.

Also read: North India Deluge 2023: Development projects compounding destruction in Himachal Pradesh, say experts 

This time, the 11th and 12th wards of Narhaiya village under Sadar block were badly hit by river erosion as more than 100 houses washed away, Kamat said.

“Several villagers are going through sleepless nights, fearing an impending disaster,” they said.

Devki Devi, another victim, said the Koshi swallowed the house she built by saving hard-earned money. “Now we dont have any land to construct another house. After the flood, we won’t have any option other than staying on the high-rise embankment”.

Prince Raj, a block officer, admitted that river erosion displaced many families. Many are demanding relief from the local administration. “We have provided polythene sheets and some food items to 48 displaced families.”

Overflowing Koshi and Mahananda rivers are creating panic among people living in villages beside these rivers. For instance, nearly 100 families residing in the low-lying Muni Tola village under the Beldaur block in Khagaria are facing the brunt of soil erosion.

River erosion is threatening the existence of nearly a dozen villages, said an official from the district disaster management department.

Similarly, hundreds of people from different villages in Azamnagar block in Katihar are leaving the village and migrating to safer places after river erosion washed away their houses.

Early this week, the Member of Parliament from Katihar, Dular Chandra Goswami, visited vulnerable villages in Amdabad block in Katihar after the victims alleged negligence in completing measures to protect them from erosion.

In Bhagalpur, the Ganga river washed away houses in Kahalgaon block. River erosion here has been continuing since the last week of June, with heavy rainfall reported in some pockets after the onset of the monsoon.

Read more: North India Deluge 2023: Lahaul-Spiti’s cold desert receives a third of seasonal rain in a day

However, the state government is more or less silent on how to tackle the issue. There is no mention of erosion-related data in the daily flood report updated by the state disaster management department.

A senior official from the state water resource department said river erosion is not a new problem. “It has been taking place for years, but the department has recently implemented anti-erosion works.”

Though Bihar is still facing a rainfall deficit of 33 per cent nearly a month after the monsoon arrived this year, its major rivers are overflowing due to the heavy rainfall in catchment areas in the north Bihar districts and neighbouring Nepal.”

In flood-prone Katihar, erosion by four major rivers — Ganga, Mahananda, Koshi and Barandi — displace thousands during monsoon every year.

The state government claimed that erosion control steps were undertaken as a part of flood control measures in Supaul, Katihar and other vulnerable districts.

However, the measures, mainly the maintenance of long embankments and erosion control works, should have been completed by May 15, but works are either not completed or still underway at several places.

Experts repeatedly raised the issue of increasing river erosion and its adverse impact. They expressed serious concern over the fact that river erosion threatens the existence of hundreds of villages and the livelihood of thousands.

Read more: Monsoon 2023: Skewed rainfall distribution drowning north, northwestern India while peninsular south remains dry

Ironically, there is no official data on the number of people displaced by river erosion in the state.

Bihar is the state most affected by floods, accounting for close to 17.2 per cent of the total flood-prone areas in the country. Of the total 9.416 million hectares (ha), 6.880 million ha — 76 per cent of north Bihar and 73 per cent of south Bihar — is flood-prone. Currently, 28 of 38 districts in the state are flood-prone, according to the state water resources department.

Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), in a 2021 study, said climate change-induced heavy monsoon rainfall in the Himalayas and the catchment areas of the Koshi had caused soil erosion in some regions of Bihar.

“The Koshi basin suffers from a very high level of erosion, which not only affects the land but also results in many negative impacts from sedimentation downstream,” said the study. It is important to design and implement erosion control practices for the basin. Such measures should target the most vulnerable areas, where the impact is likely the greatest.

High levels of erosion result in high levels of sedimentation, which can affect storage infrastructure and agricultural land and contribute to downstream fluvial hazards, it pointed out.

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