Way of the water


As monsoon draws nearer, nobody could sit back and wait for the floods to come. One thing is very clear, the floods will come. Flood events are a part of nature. They have existed and will continue to exist. As usual, the IFCD minister has been inspecting the river banks particularly the breach-prone portions as a precautionary measure. There is a saying in Manipur that some people pray for floods and devastation so that they could mint money out of emergency works thrown up by the floods. We hope the new minister Ngamthang Haokip will apply his mind to it and conduct a complete overhaul of the work culture which has been in existence in the department for so long. In the system overhaul, we should keep in mind a paradigm shift has become necessary. One must shift from defensive action against hazards of flood to management of the risk and living with floods, bearing in mind that flood prevention should not be limited to flood events which occur often. In the last SPF government headed by Okram Ibobi himself, massive works for reinforced concrete embankments were taken up along the rivers and nallahs passing through the Imphal city. Large stretches of the Nambul River which is the major source of floods in the city area has been embanked and we have to wait and see whether it could withstand the fury of monsoon and flood pressure. But these are largely defensive measures. The new idea floated by world bodies is management of risks and living with floods. Adding more height or making the embankment sturdier does not necessarily mean that we would able to avoid the flood. Water always finds a way. As we said in the beginning, floods are a natural event and it cannot be avoided. So as far as feasible, human interference into the processes of nature should be reversed, compensated and, in the future, prevented. Flood strategy should cover the entire river basin area and promote the coordinated development and management of actions regarding water, land and related resources. Structural measures will remain important elements and should primarily focus on the protection of human health and safety, and valuable goods and property. We will have to keep in mind that flood protection is never absolute, and may generate a false sense of security. The concept of residual risk, including potential failure or breach, should therefore be taken into consideration.

Another impediment plaguing the functioning of the flood control department is regarding flood information. Every time flood occurs, it is the other way round regarding information. They wait for calls from the press reporters seeking information on the levels of river in the Flood Control room instead of taking a proactive role. The idea of flood forecasting and warning has never been considered by the department. It is indeed a prerequisite for successful mitigation of flood damage. Its effectiveness depends on the level of preparedness and correct response. Therefore the responsible authorities should provide timely and reliable flood warning, flood forecasting and information. A specific preparedness to alert, rescue and safety measures should be planned and implemented at all levels, including the public, by maintaining regular basic information and continuous ongoing training actions. With appropriate and timely information, preparedness, everyone who may suffer from the consequences of flood events should be able to take -if possible- his/her own precautions and thus seriously limit flood damages. Early warning systems will prove useful in the process of evacuation of people to ‘safer areas’ which also should be identified beforehand. The IFCD should also take into confidence other government departments and agencies so that a multi-pronged approach could be developed.


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