Natural Disasters

In flood-prone Bihar, govt asks villagers to tweet potential threats

The state’s major rivers are all above danger levels and pose severe risks to flood-prone areas

By C K Manoj
Published: Wednesday 01 July 2020
Embankment protection work in progress in Khajauli block of Bihar’s Madhubani district Photo: CK Manoj
Embankment protection work in progress in Khajauli block of Bihar’s Madhubani district Photo: CK Manoj Embankment protection work in progress in Khajauli block of Bihar’s Madhubani district Photo: CK Manoj

The Bihar government has asked people in rural areas to turn to social media if they notice any flaws in flood-prevention structures.

Bihar — a flood-prone state — suffers significant loss to life and property every year. The water levels of the state’s major rivers rise during this time because of continuous rain with the onset of monsoon.

This time around, the Bagmati, Gandak, Kamla Balan, Kosi and the Mahananda rivers are all above danger levels and pose severe risks to flood-prone areas.

The monsoon — which reached the state on time for the first time in a decade — has covered almost all of Bihar.

All our embankments are safe. We are still on alert,” said a press statement issued by the office of the executive engineer of Patna’s Flood Control Room.

Bihar’s water resources department — as a pre-emptive measure — has, thus, asked villagers to use micro-blogging site Twitter to highlight any concerns they have, including reporting cracks in river embankments.

The department came up with a hashtag that people can use to report any information related to possible threats related to floods.

The department tweeted this in Hindi as well.

“We have our own system to keep a vigil on all river embankments, track information and maintain safety of the embankments,” Awadhesh Kr Jha, the department’s public relations officer, told Down To Earth July 1, 2020.

“We reached out to villagers, as every piece of information is valuable,” he added.

The department was not entirely dependent on villagers for the safety of river embankments, but it was better to receive any reports from them, according to Jha.

The people’s involvement can help in significantly containing the flood situation as several villagers now use the internet on smartphones and are familiar with social media applications like Twitter, said another department official.

Water resources minister Sanjay Kumar Jha said the department was also in the process of launching a round-the-clock call centre with a toll-free number.

“Their involvement will help the department reach out to them faster and on time,” the minister was quoted as saying by local media.

Pre-emptive measures

The state government has deployed 13 teams of the National Disaster Response Force in 13 of Bihar’s 38 districts, including Araria, Buxar, Darbhanga, Gopalganj, Katihar, Kishanganj, Motihari, Muzaffarpur, Nalanda, Patna, Saran, Supaul and West Champaran.

The teams are equipped with flood-prevention equipment such as cutting tools, transmission sets, first responder medical kits, deep-diving sets and inflatable lighting towers.

The NDRF teams were also provided with personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, fabricated face hood covers and sanitisers keeping the current novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in mind.

Twenty-eight Bihar districts are flood-prone. Of these, 15 are considered extremely flood-prone, according to a report by the state’s disaster management authority.

“A vast swathe of land is inundated every year not because of excess rain within our geographical boundaries,” the report said.

“Inundation occurs due to flooding in the major rivers that stretch beyond our territory, including to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and beyond to Nepal,” it added.

Flood-prone Bihar

The state’s most severe flood-related disaster occurred in 2008 when the Kosi breached its mud embankment at Kusaha in Nepal, leaving around five million settled in five north Bihar districts homeless for months.

Bihar’s topography is marked by a number of perennial and non-perennial rivers, said the report.

Those which originate from Nepal carry high sediment loads that are subsequently deposited in the plains of Bihar, it said.

A majority of rain in this region is concentrated in the three monsoon months during which the flow of rivers increases up to 50 times, causing floods, according to the report.

An estimated 73 per cent of Bihar’s total land area — 68,800 square kilometres out of 94,160 sq km — is vulnerable to floods, the report pointed out.

Annual flooding in Bihar accounts for about 30-40 per cent of the flood damage in India and 22.1 per cent of its total flood-affected population, according to the report.

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