55% of India's Natural Disasters This Century Have Been Floods, Says Report

At least 55 percent of the natural disasters in India – from 2000-2018, the period that the report covers – have been floods, while 22 percent have been storms.

New Delhi: At least 55 percent of the natural disasters to strike India since 2000 have been floods, while 22 percent have been storms, says a report. This mimics a global trend, where floods made up 43 percent of natural disasters and 28 percent were storms.

The report, Decoding of Monsoon Floods, has been co-authored by Delhi-based NGO, SEEDS, and Brussels-based Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). It looks at disasters in the four South-East Asian countries of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar.

The region, by August 2017, had suffered from 232 floods and 129 storms that have killed thousands and affected millions, said the report.

Every district of India has seen an average of 11 floods from the year 2000 to 2017, co-founder of SEEDS Dr Anshu Sharma said.

People think of floods in areas such as Leh and parts of Rajasthan as anomalies. However, Leh has seen nine major floods in this period of time. “It floods every alternate year,” pointed out Sharma.

Rajasthan has seen 11 floods, which means that the 2006 Barmer floods were not a one-off incident. Gujarat, meanwhile, has a higher average of 15 and Lakhimpur in Assam has flooded 31 times.

Worryingly, 56 percent of the designated smart cities are in highly vulnerable zones. Sharma raised concerns over the absolute lack of urban planning in at least three-fourths of India’s urban centres, leaving them without any preparation for natural disasters. According to the report, 2292 cities and towns are in districts which have seen 11 floods in the last 18 years.

Mumbai, for example, had seen heavy rains and floods bring the city to a standstill as recently as August 2017.

Professor Debarati Guha Sapir, working with CRED, said that floods are easily managed disasters. Unfortunately, there is utter lack of data on the loss and damage they cause, in terms of deaths, property destroyed, long-term agricultural losses and health costs.

“We have events but we don’t know the scale of deaths and losses. Are floods becoming more violent events?” Guha Sapir asked. The data on floods per district lacks the critical numbers of deaths, destruction and economic losses.

The report showed that coastal deluge were only 1 percent of India’s floods. The maximum, 71 percent, were riverine floods.

Countries with limited resources, she pointed out, needed to prioritise disasters that contribute most to their losses and that is impossible without data.

Hence, CRED and SEEDS have launched a pilot project in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar, to improve data collection through local sources, to geocode the impact footprint of disasters and to quantify vulnerabilities.

The researchers will train teams of local volunteers – two such training programmes are already underway in Uttarakhand and Assam – to understand and make a compendium of crucial community knowledge.

Signs of impending disasters and the nuanced ways the communities have learned to live with them will be part of the knowledge collected. “Local communities often know when floods or wet landslides are about to happen. This project aims to tap into that,” said Dr Anshu Sharma.