Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Transboundary Flood Disasters

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From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Transboundary Rivers

Mains level : Disaster Management

Transboundary Flood Disasters

Context

  • Pakistan experiencing devastation, with a spread of diseases and severe shortage of potable water after intense flooding. In June this year Assam experienced one of its worst floods in which it affected over 30 districts. Assam and Bihar frequently suffer from transboundary flood disasters.

What is transboundary flood?

  • Floods that are originate in upper riparian state crosses the international boundary and also affects the lower riparian state. For example, river Brahmaputra causes flood both in China and India simultaneously.

Transboundary Flood DisastersHow the transboundary floods are difficult to manage than normal floods?

  • Flooding is still considered to be a natural phenomenon that cannot be entirely prevented. But it is compounded by the lack of transparency in the sharing of hydrological information and also information relating to activities (such as by one riparian state) that are transboundary in their effect (affecting other riparian states), thus serving as an obstacle in understanding the magnitude of flooding.

Transboundary Flood DisastersWhat is a riparian state?

  • A riparian state is state (or country) located alongside a river.

What are the International laws governing transboundary waters?

There are at two international treaties that governs the transboundary water

  • UNWC:
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Use of International Watercourses (UNWC) 1997.UNWC contains a direct reference to floods, which covers harmful conditions and the emergency situations.
  • Article 27 of the Convention says, Watercourse States shall individually and, where appropriate, jointly, take all appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate conditions that may be harmful to other watercourse States, whether resulting from natural causes or human conduct or desertification.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment:
  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ), in the Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina vs Uruguay) case of 2010, upheld that conducting a transboundary environmental impact assessment (TEIA) of a planned measure or projects on the shared water course is part of customary international law.
  • In fact, the ICJ noted that the acting state must notify the affected party of the results of TEIA for assessment of its own damages that are likely to occur.
  • UNECE: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes 1992 (Water Convention).

Transboundary Flood DisastersHow India manages transboundary flood?

  • Note:Neither India nor China are signatory to UNWC or UNCEC.
  • River Brahmaputra: India has signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China in 2013 with a view to sharing hydrological information during the flood season (June to September). The MoU does not allow India access to urbanisation and deforestation activities on the Chinese side of the river basin.
  • Rivers Gandak and kosi: Floods are also a recurrent problem in the Kosi and Gandak river basins that are shared by India and Nepal.
  • The India-Nepal Kosi agreement 1954: Agreement aimed at reducing devastating flooding in the river basin. The treaty-based joint bodies have also tried to refine the early warning systems for flood forecasting.

What are the suggestions?

  • Signing the treaty: Expert suggests, India by becoming a party to either the UNWC and the Water Convention could lay the groundwork for a bilateral treaty on the Brahmaputra but subject to the reservation that it should not insist on the insertion of a dispute settlement mechanism provision.
  • Information exchange: In contravention of procedural customary international law obligation, India considers data on transboundary rivers as classified information, which is one of the key challenges in developing cross-border flood warning systems. India needs to share the hydrological and river information for its own sake.

Conclusion

  • Climate change has accelerated the frequency and intensity of floods across the world. with Changing climate India should also change its strategy to protect its people, to preserve the soil and to save its resources from the scourge of floods.

Mains Questions

Q.Climate change has created a more difficult challenge in flood management. In this context, what measures can be taken to deal with frequent transboundary floods in India. Discuss.

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