Extreme Rainfall, Bad Infrastructure Lead To Floods In India

by GoNews Desk 1 year ago Views 606

Extreme rainfall during the monsoons is the new normal in India, but the ensuing floods killing thousands and displacing millions are partly due to reckless development and inefficient water management

Extreme Rainfall
By Soumya Sarkar

It now seems difficult to imagine that many places in India were facing drought in late July 2019. In August, a few bouts of heavy rain changed that to devastating floods, killing over 1,500 people and displacing millions in much of northern, western and southern India.

In mid-August, floods hit the southern and western states of Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Several hundred people died. Floodwaters damaged property and roads, and destroyed thousands of hectares of summer crops.

Kerala was particularly badly affected. Reeling under a rainfall deficit of 27% till August 7, the next day the state received 368% more rainfall than average, triggering widespread floods and displacing close to two million people. By August 13, incessant downpours sliced the seasonal deficit to 3%, a massive 24 percentage points difference. The state was still recovering from last year’s floods, the worst in a century.

In Maharashtra, two weeks of heavy rainfall flooded many western districts of the state such as Pune, Kolhapur, Satara and Sangli, killing 50 and displacing half a million. And all this while the monsoon rain shadow areas of Marathwada and Vidarbha remained drought hit.

Karnataka swung between a monsoon deficit of 13% to an excess of 10% on a week’s heavy rainfall. On August 8, some districts received up to 32 times their normal rainfall. Floodwaters rushed into 12 districts, mostly in the northern and central parts. Monuments in the World Heritage Site Hampi were submerged by the swollen Tungabhadra river.

If this wasn’t enough, there were cloudbursts in the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Extreme rainfall on August 18 wreaked havoc in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, washing away dozens of houses in several villages. Heavy rains over the weekend in Himachal Pradesh poured enormous quantities of water in many parts of the state, causing floods and landslides. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Sunday that Himachal Pradesh received the highest-ever rainfall for 24 hours since records began some 70 years back.

The rain in the uplands saw floods spilling over the plains of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where massive relief work is in progress. The headwaters of the Ganga in Uttarakhand are in spate, with the river crossing the danger mark in Haridwar. The water of the Yamuna has risen alarmingly, triggering a flood warning in the national capital.

A disaster foretold

This kind of sudden and heavy rainfall is not unexpected. Scientists have long warned that extreme weather events brought on by manmade climate change is inevitable, and such weather extremes have arrived in India. The trend of extraordinary precipitation over shorter periods of time has been well documented.

“Although prediction of such extreme weather events is still fraught with uncertainties, a proper assessment of likely future trends would help in setting up infrastructure for disaster preparedness,” said a 2006 study led by B.N. Goswami of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. The study of rainfall data of the southwest monsoon, the study found that there is an increase in the number of extreme monsoon weather events over India over the past half century, although the seasonal mean monsoon rainfall remains stable for the same period.

“There is a 10% increase per decade in the level of heavy rainfall activity since the early 1950s, whereas the number of very heavy events has more than doubled, indicating a large increase in disaster potential,” the study found. “These findings are in tune with model projections and some observations that indicate an increase in heavy rain events and a decrease in weak events under global warming scenarios.”

In 2011, P. Guhathakurta, O.P. Sreejith and P.A. Menon of the India Meteorological Department investigated the occurrence of exceptionally heavy rainfall events and associated flash floods in many areas in recent years. They found that extreme rainfall and flood risk are increasing significantly in the country. The frequency of very heavy rainfall events and risk of floods is likely to increase over India, said a 2008 study led by M. Rajeevan of the National Atmospheric Research Laboratory.

Although for some two decades the scientific evidence has been pointing to more such calamities occurring more frequently, such scenarios were mostly ignored by policymakers. As a result, this year’s cloudbursts have caught the authorities unprepared.


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