From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : floodplains
Mains level : floodplains management, challenges and strategies
What’s the news?
- Indian cities are projected to contribute significantly to the country’s GDP by 2030. Flooding in these urban centers has a substantial economic impact, underscoring the importance of effective flood management.
- The world is grappling with a dual challenge of water scarcity and excess as climate change intensifies. The frequency and intensity of floods are on the rise, with devastating consequences. The urgency of addressing this issue cannot be overstated.
Recent catastrophic floods
- Last year, Pakistan witnessed catastrophic floods that claimed lives and affected millions.
- India has faced its share of calamities, such as the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, the 2014 Kashmir Valley deluge, the 2015 Chennai floods, and the 2017 Gujarat floods.
- This year, Himachal Pradesh experienced rain-induced floods and landslides.
Why is India prone to flooding?
- Geographical Vulnerability: The article mentions that over 40 million hectares, which is nearly 12% of India’s total land area, are prone to floods, as indicated by the Geological Survey of India. This vulnerability is due to India’s diverse geography, including extensive river systems, coastal regions, and mountainous areas.
- Climate Change: Floods are increasing in frequency and intensity, and this trend is expected to continue due to climate change. Extreme precipitation events are becoming more common, contributing to flooding.
- Urbanization Challenges: Rapid and haphazard urbanization is one of the factors that makes Indian cities vulnerable to floods. The expansion of cities, often without proper consideration of natural topography, increases the risk of flooding in urban areas.
- Inadequate Legal Framework: India primarily relies on the Disaster Management Act of 2005 for flood management, but this law is not specifically focused on flood risk management and assumes that disasters cannot be predicted, which may not be entirely accurate for floods.
- Large-Scale Encroachments: India faces challenges due to extensive encroachments on floodplains, including illegal construction and mining activities. These encroachments reduce the natural capacity of rivers and floodplains to handle excess water during heavy rainfall.
- Chennai Floods Example: The 2015 Chennai floods were attributed to these encroachments, and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India labeled it a man-made disaster.
- Weak Enforcement of Environmental Laws: The environmental protection laws in India are often not effectively implemented. Central policies related to floodplain protection lack binding power over states, allowing encroachments to persist.
Flood Plains and their Significance
- Flood plains adjacent to rivers serve as natural defences against inland flooding. Maintained without concrete encroachments, they absorb excess water, safeguarding other regions.
- Properly managed flood plains also aid in recharging groundwater levels and maintaining the water table.
Key issues related to occupying floodplains and the challenges it poses in India
- Reduced River Capacity: Illegal construction in floodplains diminishes the natural capacity of rivers to contain high water levels within their banks. This becomes especially problematic during periods of heavy rainfall when water from upper catchment areas flows downstream.
- Neglect of Eco-Sensitive Areas: In Uttarakhand, there has been a disregard for eco-sensitive floodplains with the construction of guest houses and hotels along riverfronts to promote tourism and economic growth. This neglect has contributed to increased flood risks.
- Regulatory Efforts: Following the massive floods in 2013, the National Green Tribunal issued a directive in 2015, essentially barring construction within 200 meters of the Ganga’s banks. However, attempts to bypass this directive have been made, raising questions about the proper implementation of environmental impact assessments.
- Ineffective Legislation: The Uttaranchal River Valley (Development and Management) Act of 2005 was established to regulate mining and construction in river valleys. However, reports suggest rampant mining and construction activities with little consideration for environmental protection.
- Weak Implementation of Environmental Laws: Despite having environmental protection laws in place, India faces issues with their implementation. Central policy measures to protect floodplains are often non-binding on states, and there is a lack of effective enforcement.
Strategies to preserve ecosystems
- International Examples:
- Examples from around the world include Germany’s Federal Water Act, which underwent a significant change in 1996 following a massive flood.
- The law now prioritizes the protection of the original retention capacity of water bodies during reconstruction.
- This change reflects the value of preserving floodplains and enhancing water retention as effective measures against flooding.
- Cross-Sectoral Approach:
- Climate change adaptation is described as a cross-sectoral issue that involves various areas of legislation, including land use, water body preservation, coastal regulations, and environmental impact assessment.
- A comprehensive and integrated approach is necessary to address the complexities of climate change adaptation effectively.
- Coherent Legal Framework:
- To tackle climate change and its associated risks, it is crucial to integrate multiple laws into a coherent framework.
- Passing climate-related legislation alone may not be sufficient if other laws related to land use and environmental protection are not aligned with climate goals.
- Political Will:
- Strong political will is identified as a critical factor in achieving effective climate change adaptation strategies.
- Populist leaders may be hesitant to implement green policies, so there is a need for a shift in political priorities to prioritize environmental protection and climate resilience.
- India’s approach to flood management must evolve to embrace integrated flood risk management, learning from global examples. By prioritizing ecosystem preservation and adopting a holistic approach to climate change adaptation, India can better safeguard lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure from the growing threat of floods.