Natural Disasters

Embankments are temporary, not permanent solutions to floods: Experts

In the wake of floods in Assam and Bihar, experts question the practice of only using embankments for flood mitigation

By Heli Shah
Published: Tuesday 16 July 2019
Workmen constructing dykes on the Kosi Barrage in Bihar's Supaul district. Photo: Krishna Mishra

Construction of embankments have been increasingly popular as a way to keep floods in check, but how effective are they? 

As Bihar and Assam already grapple with floods, some experts have questioned the dependence on embankments and underscored the need to look elsewhere, including drainage facilities.

“Embankments cannot mitigate floods in the long-term,” said Partha J Das, programme head at the Water, Climate and Hazard Programme of Guwahati based non-profit Aranyak. Such bunds were proposed as temporary solutions when India first proposed a flood-mitigation policy in the 1950s, he added.

There was not much research and development to look into other solutions. Funds were also inadequare, according to him.

“The number of embankments on rivers from the Gandak to the Mahanadi spiralled 400 times between 1989 and 2018,” Dinesh Kumar Mishra of Barh Mukti Abhiyaan, an flood-mitigating drive, said.  

“There were fewer flash floods in the ’80s; embankments were enough to stop water from entering cities. Today huge volumes of water gush due to extreme rainfall in small spells of rain,” Mishra, considered an authority on the river network of North Bihar, added.

The problem, according to him, is the lack of drainage facilities. He said his suggestions on drainage received a diplomatic nod two-three years ago, but are yet to be implemented. 

The government should draft policy that includes beneficiaries, representatives from local communities and technical experts, he added.

The situation in Bihar and Assam, meanwhile, remains grim.

According to media reports, 25 out of 32 districts in Assam have been affected. The water level in the major river of the state, the Brahmaputra, is expected to rise. Eight districts have bee affected in Bihar even as the Kosi crossed the danger mark.

Between 1950 and 2018, flood-prone area in the state nearly doubled to 49.16 million hectares.

“In 2014, the prime minister of India visited Nepal to revive a 22-year-old treaty which was about the construction of an 1800 Megawatt hydro-power project. Not much has been done on this. It will take around 20 years more to see any implementation of the dam. The decision for construction has to come from Nepal as it is upstream on the river,” says Mishra.

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