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October 21, 2013

West Bengal Govt. demonstrates disaster preparedness in the wake of floods in the state

West Bengal Govt. demonstrates disaster preparedness in the wake of floods in the state

Four districts of the state have been experiencing a horrid flood situation for the past one week for no fault of theirs; the floods were man-made and not even a natural calamity. Thanks to the Chief Minister of West Bengal Ms. Mamata Banerjee, who had taken personal initiatives to rush to the aid of the flood-affected areas, people have heaved a sigh of relief.

Ten years ago, when a similar flood situation took place in West Bengal, the Trinamool Chairperson had said that it was a man-made flood. The then state government ignored the warning. In October 2013, when the DVC and Jharkhand Government released the excess water from their dams, without any prior warning, the nightmares of the past loomed above.

A Humane Government

The Chief Minister, who was taking stock of the flood situation from her residence during the Pujas did not dither for a moment before stepping out to travel to the flood affected regions in East and West Midnapore, along with Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee. During this surprise visit, she held meetings with district officials, distributed relief materials at Gopiballavpur, an erstwhile hotbed of Left Wing Extremists, and then took stock of the situation by interacting with people. She announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the families of those who lost their lives and a sum of Rs 15,000 for those who lost their houses in the flood. A compensation of Rs 5,000 for families whose houses were partially damaged in the calamity.

The Disaster management Dept. probably had taken precautionary steps well in advance. It had already sent a team of Disaster Management officials as the Cyclone Phailin hit the coastal areas of the state. The department has evolved with time and has undergone several upgradations in the recent past to serve people better; this situation, however difficult, was quickly taken upon under control. Last year, the Government had planned to set up unified disaster management centre in all the districts of the state. The decision also paid off during the crisis.

A History of Floods

West Bengal, a part of Bengal Delta, has a long history of floods. It is because the landmass of the State was formed by the Ganga-Padma river system through the delta building process, of which flood is an adjunct, being the main carrier of sediments in huge volumes. At present 42.3% of total area of the State, spread over 110 blocks in 18 districts, is susceptible to floods. The largest landmass affected by floods in the state, as recorded in 1978, is about 30, About 23,970 sq.kms of area were devastated by flood in 2000. In the State, only five years could be identified as flood free years between 1960 to 2000, when only less than 500 sq.kms of area were inundated.

After the independence of India in 1947, the Damodar Valley Corporation was formed by a Central-Act. Four reservoirs were created along with the construction of four dams; these were declared to be multipurpose with flood control as one of the objectives. What was to be the prime objective, the flood control, was relegated to the third in order of priority as noted in the declared objective of the DVC Act of 1948.

Traditionally, Damodar basin has been known to be a flood-prone area. The basin of river Damodar has a very special shape and this influences its flood pattern. The river has about 70% of its basin just upstream of Durgapur town. These upper catchments of Jharkhand plateau, above Durgapur, generate heavy run-off during high rainfall and is carried to Durgapur in a short time. From here, this discharge travels through the river, bifurcating at Beguahana. One branch, the lower Damodar with very small capacity, reaches the Hoogly on the west bank. The major discharge passes through the Mundeswari river to meet the Rupnarayan river.

Any major discharge along the downstream of Durgapur Barrage may cause flood depending upon the outfall condition of Mundeswari at Harinkhola. In Kangsabati river system, the Kangsabati dam has a limited flood storage capacity which is very nominal. Any major spillway discharge from Kangsabati dam may cause flood at lower areas downstream of Midnapore town, depending on tide and downstream rainfall.

Disaster Preparedness

Flood-proofing requires an action plan involving innovative emergency measures that would be a combination of structural and non-structural methods so that people can stay safely in the area during flood without evacuation. It is also linked with flood preparedness and can form a part of disaster management plan for the locality. At present the State has a system of issuing flood warning by the Irrigation & Waterways Department, which maintains constant liaison with the Disaster Management Department. The system has been developed to serve mainly the administration, which can take immediate action.

District Magistrates, Sub Divisional Officers and Block Development Officers have been instructed to be conversant with the history, causes and effects of floods in their districts and subdivisions respectively. The average annual high flood level in the area is being ascertained from the nearest offices of Irrigation and Waterways Department. As the monsoon approaches, reports regarding rainfall and rise of rivers are examined at regular intervals.  In this way, timely warning is sent to the villagers in the danger zone.

District Magistrates, Sub Divisional and Block Development Officers have been instructed to take special care and be acquainted with the low lying areas, which are liable to suffer most in case of flood. They have been asked to acquaint themselves with the conditions of important embankments so that they may be strengthened as necessary and guarded where necessary. In dealing with the relieving of water logged areas, these officers now work in collaboration with the local officers of the Irrigation and Waterways Department and the 3-tier Panchyat Raj system.

Preparedness and early warning have become two major non-structural components of flood management. With the advancement of technology such as satellite and remote-sensing equipments, flood waves can be tracked as they move downwards. Except for flash floods there is usually a reasonable warning period. Heavy precipitation will give sufficient warning of the advent of river flood. High tides and high winds may indicate flooding in the coastal areas. Evacuation is possible with suitable monitoring and warning.

How It Works

  • Block Disaster Management Committee convenes meeting before the onset of monsoon in the month of March/early April,
  • Arrangement for functioning of control room. Specific charge have been given at Block level to listen to weather bulletins from radio and television to monitor the warning relevant to the Block
  • A joint inspection team at block level now inspects river embankments in the month of March and April. A summary report is sent to the Sub Division and district accordingly
  • When monsoon sets in, BDO sends daily report regularly on the basis of the reports received from villages and gram panchayats in to the Sub Divisional Officer and District Magistrate
  • Dissemination of weather report and flood bulletins to lower level
  •  Installation of temporary police wireless stations and temporary telephones in flood-prone areas
  • Identification of the owners of country and mechanized boats with address and contact numbers
  • Storage of food in interior, vulnerable, strategic and key areas
  • Arrangement of dry foodstuff and other necessities of life
  • Arrangement for keeping the drainage system de-silted and properly maintained by Gram Panchayats and the Dept. of Irrigation & Waterways
  • Health measures
  • Veterinary measures
  • Selection and maintenance of flood shelters
  • Alternative drinking water supplies arrangements
  • Other Precautionary Measures

During Emergency conditions – When emergency condition develops following a disaster, the situations are tackled under the provisions of the Crisis Management and Relief Organization

Measures Taken By the Govt

The Disaster Management Department, with its expertise, has already evacuated or rescued more than 81,000 people and sheltered them in places of higher altitude. In more than 260 relief camps that have been formed, these people are surviving on the relief materials sent by the Government. The State Government has already dispatched eleven medical teams to the affected areas to provide immediate relief to the people.

Flood victims in the relief shelters often become susceptible to water borne diseases of viral , bacterial and parasitic origin due to lack of proper hygiene and sanitation. This quite often leads to an outbreak of an epidemic. Keeping this in mind, the medical teams sent by the Government are working on making the flood victims aware of the infectious, communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Disinfectants like bleaching powder, which can minimize the spread of water borne diseases are being used, temporarily dug wells, sanitary latrines are being disinfected from time to time. Arrangements are being made to supply potable safe drinking water in pouches or jars to reduce the chances of diarrhoea and dysentery.

Parting Thought

`I have seen in my own eyes the plight of poor people in precarious conditions, entirely due to a man-made incident by some irresponsible people. It was not primarily due to rains. There was no continuous monitoring by those agencies who abruptly and suddenly released water, ` commented West Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee regarding the flood situation.

Needless to say, now Bengal has to bear the brunt of this unnecessary misfortune. West Bengal has faced challenges in the past, and, ably guided by Ms. Mamata Banerjee, it has risen from ruins, each time. For Didi is our past present and future.