The Flood Fury of 2014.
It is said that, ‘Floods are acts of God, but acts of man cause flood damage’. The recent floods of Kashmir Valley are a testimony to this fact. The Holy Quran states:
“We sent Noah to the people …. (With a message)
But they rejected him
And We delivered him and those with him
In the Ark
But We overwhelmed
In the Flood those
Who rejected Our Signs
They were indeed
A blind people!” (7:59-64)
Noah’s warning was rejected by his generation and they were destroyed in the Flood. (C. 85)
The formation of Satisar is also reported to be a remnant of Noah’s deluge. The Japanese scholars have recently expressed high regards for Kashmir as according to them it is the first land-mass to emerge after the floods of Prophet Noah (called Manu) receded. Lawrence quotes in his Valley of Kashmir that it is said that where the Wullar rests there was a great and a wicked city which was swallowed up by an earthquake, and the floods completed its destruction. The meaning of the word ‘Wullar’ is cave and the legends say that the remains of the wicked city have been seen by the boatmen. The formation of Dal Lake is also ascribed to the flooding of Talni Marg during the reign of Raja Parvarsen in sixth century AD, who constructed an embankment from Rainawari to Dalgate (now a road) to block the drainage of the newly formed lake. The Valley witnessed again major flood in 879 AD in the reign of king Awantiwarman, when the low-lying areas of the Valley were flooded due to blockade of river Jhelum down below Varmul and Er. Suya devised an ingenious method of removing the blockade by dropping gold coins in the river bed, which resulted into the clearance of debris by local divers followed by release of dammed up waters to push the blockade downstream. “The flood of 1893 was a great calamity, but it had the good effect of warning the State that the valuable house property in Srinagar was inadequately protected. The protection works were taken in hand but at the same time, it was apprehended that the security of city means loss to cultivation on the banks of the river above Srinagar. The more Srinagar is protected the more obstruction there will be to passage of waters from south through the city. Thus, the founders of Srinagar have bequeathed a serious engineering problem to their successors”, says Lawrence. In 1959 floods, with almost equal discharge as of today, there has not been such a colossal damage as the pressure on the river was decreased first by allowing inundation of flood plains through Kandizal breach besides catering of one third of discharge by flood spill channel and also allowing a part of discharge to flow into Dal Lake, where water level was maintained lower than the present one, thus saving the city from inundation. In addition colonies had not come up at the low-lying areas of Rajbagh, Jawahirnagar, Mahjoor Nagar and Bemina etc., which formed flood lungs in emergencies. The Master Plan 2000-2021 describes that river Jhelum and its diversion channels namely Tsunti Khul, Kuta Khul, Soner Khul and Watel Khul were navigational per-se. These water courses contributed to a large extent to the environment, trade and water transport and helped to carrying down substantial volume of discharge during floods. Incidentally the proposed mechanized water transport on river Jhelum would have proved a great savior in the recent crisis. “Water transport on the water courses has dwindled for the reason that over a period of time cross sections of river and khuls have squeezed, beds have risen and draft dropped down due to heavy siltation. The banks of the river and khuls have been mis-used by the public and encroached upon”, says Lawrence.. Several recommendations have been made regarding reviving the carrying capacities of the river and the adjoining streams, but no action was taken till date despite passage of fourteen years of the city’s Master Plan period. It was a practice to mark with paint the HFL (Highest flood level) on the walls of important Govt. buildings to serve as a reference mark for raising the plinths of future constructions at least one meter higher than the HFL. It is high time that this practice is revived marking the current HFL for future guidance.
The recent flash floods have left many lessons for us to take care for future development. The chronological order of events that were reported in the media was as under:
01. Heavy rains lashed Jammu& Kashmir including summer capital Srinagar for the second consecutive day Wednesday triggering flood threat across the Valley. Water level at Ram Munshi Bagh in Srinagar 12 ft., six notches below danger mark; water level at Sangam Anantnag 21 ft., two notches below danger mark. Met. Deptt. forecast moderate to heavy rains to lash Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions till Saturday morning. (GK Sept. 3rd. 2014)
02. Flood threat looms over Kashmir. (GK Sept. 4th.)
03. Kashmir floods throw life out of gear, several areas inundated, many structures damaged. CM reviews situation. Flood alert sounded. Water level in Jhelum touches record level of 31 ft. The discharge of Jhelum was 70,000 cusecs against normal discharge of 25,000 cusecs. A breach occurred at Kandizal area of Budgam. Authorities asked people living in flood-prone areas and embankments of rivers and streams to shift to safer areas. More rains forecast on Friday. Flood waters breached many embankments in many low-lying areas in Kashmir including Srinagar, forcing people to move to safer places. Jhelum River crossed 30 ft. mark at Sangam in Anantnag-7 ft. above danger mark. It touched 21.8 ft against the danger mark of 18 ft. at Ram Munshi Bagh. Rains inundate city center, residential colonies.
Met Deptt. said, “though September is not a rainy season for Kashmir, but due to under-development of favourable weather system, there had been wide-spread heavy rain in past as well. One such year after 1980 was 1992 (September) when most parts of Kashmir received heavy rains apart from Sept. 1988 in Jammu region. In future also we cannot rule out heavy rainfall in September”.
Srinagar received 88 mm. rain, Qazigund 286 mm.,Pahalgam 115 mm.,Kupwara 61 mm.,Kukarnag 219 mm., Jammu 107 mm., Banihal 248 mm.,Katra 158 mm., Badarwah 165 mm. and Gulmarg 139 mm. in past two days. Roads got damaged bridges washed away, villages got flooded in Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama, Ganderbal, Baramulla. National Highway closed. Educational institutions closed. Marriage invitations cancelled. CM reviews situation.
People helpless, Government sleepless. Doodganga bunds breached. Bone & Joint Hospital and residential colonies inundated. Bund breaches not plugged at Rawalpora, Peerbagh, Natipora, Chanapora. (GK Sept. 5th.)
Telephones, Mobile phones, internet, Radio Kashmir, DD Kashir, electricity supply, water supply snapped. Press enclave submerged.
04. Flood fury, death toll 248. Twenty five bodies recovered from Srinagar. Doctors send alarm of epidemic. As floods recede, administration yet to come out of debris. Fear of dead bodies keeps people away from Jawahirnagar, locals complain of tardy dewatering. GK resumes publication after ten days.
05. Kashmir economy down by a trillion. Damage to infrastructure 100,000 cr. Houses either fully or partially damaged 300,000. Flood affected villages in Kashmir-1700, in Jammu 900. Roads damaged 12,553. Mobile and Internet not restored. Flooded Dal Lake tells its own tale of destruction, Lake dotted with ravaged houseboats, scary boat-wallas, reopening of civil secretariat proves damp squib. (GK Sept. 19th)
06. Toll mounts to 280. HC seeks Govt. response on ‘tardy’ relief measures. NGO’s, Bill Gates announce relief for J&K floods. (GK Sept. 20th)
07. Day 14- Civil lines still submerged. Lal Chowk once a buzzing market turns into ghost- street. Scourging floods spawn tales of youth valor. (GK Sept. 21st)
08. 13 patients lost their lives as Govt. abandoned SMHS Hospital. Deluge destroyed Radiology Deptt., Medical ICU, ENT, Ophthamological facilities, Diagnostic labs etc.
Day 15-Thousands still out of their homes. Kashmir confronted devastating deluge with unity, compassion- uninterrupted relief, rescuers poured in from untouched areas. (GK Sept.22nd)
09. Day 16- Srinagar areas remain inundated. Kashmir inc cries criminal negligence demands probe. Deepening of river bed saved Ganderbal. Down town brave hearted rescued 300 people from flooded Lal Ded Hospital. (GK Sept.23rd)
10. Day 17- crises mounts in flood hit Srinagar. People fume as dewatering goes on at sluggish pace. Dewatering process goes awry, thanks to official apathy. CM meets PM demands special rehab package. (GK Sept. 24th)
11. Now JK seeks outside help to pump out flood water. SC panel to ascertain situation. 9 brave hearts, 2 boats and one rescue mission. Pampore youth brave flood fury to save 2000 people in 3 days. Daharmuna swimmers saved 400 people in deluged Bemina. Volunteers executed 3-day operation with precision, rescued policemen, kids. (GK Sept.25th)
12. Prices of essentials sky rocket after floods. Govt. likely to submit loss memo to GOI by weekend. Water filters donated by Oxfam India struck in red-tape. Relief material unlikely to reach needy in view of hurdles created by J&K Govt. (GK Sept. 26th)
13. Devastating deluge- 12 lakh families hit in J&K. Kashmir boys extend helping hand from Bangalore to flood victims. (GK Sept. 28th)
14. Centre preparing comprehensive policy on Kashmir: Rajnath Singh. Pune’s offer to help clean Srinagar found no takers. We offered support, were told to wait: Commissioner. Flood ravages JK’s road infrastructure, Estimated damage Rs.1427 cr.
15. Kashmir Floods- a disaster of international magnitude. Govt. clueless how Srinagar sank. Babus surface to defend cornered Govt. J&K inadequately prepared for floods. Flood havoc –PIL seeks probe into official negligence.
16. Many more events got unnoticed or unreported in the media, a few instances are as:
i) Mr. Showkat a teacher in Fine Arts received an SMS at his home at Rainawari that flood waters in Jhelum have reached Rajbagh area. He rushed in a boat to save his wife and one month old son and his parents-in-law from Rajbagh locality. He rowed his boat over the bund along the current, boarded his family and others in the boat and rowed back now against the current, which was an uphill task for him. He saw three persons carried by the current near the bund and two persons drowned near the fountain outside Radio Kashmir building. Helplessly he could not save them. He saw a houseboat had been carried by the current upto TAO Café on the Residency road.
ii) Two officers of high profile along with their families were found rushing to airport in a motorboat, but got struck with an iron rod damaging the boat and were saved by a local of the area.
iii) A relative of ours under treatment was short of oxygen and was carried to SKIMS, thus his family escaped the wrath of floods, but he himself passed away, besides his house at Jawahirnagar crumbled down.
iv) Another relative on dialysis had to be lifted along with his family on a helicopter to carry him to Delhi for safety.
v) Another promising boy who had invested everything in his business and owned a shop at Sangarmal shopping complex lost everything. Like that there must be innumerable happenings that got unreported.
vi) A family in Bemina lost their earning hand a few months back in a slip in his house, survived by a handicapped boy of 14 years, two small daughters, old aged mother-in-law and the ill-fated wife. They resided in a single storeyed house that got submerged and they shifted to the roof slab. Somehow they were rescued and walked over a kilometer up to Iqbal memorial crossing. They were provided shelter in a nearby two storey house, water followed them there too. Somehow after a great struggle they could be rescued after five days.
Thus it is evident from above that both the public as well as Govt. were caught unawares in the flash floods who never expected such an unprecedented wrath of flood waters. But the people charged with the task of flood protection, establishment of round the clock control room, organizing of yearly flood rehearsals, ensuring of alternative wireless communications, engineering the preparedness of the disaster management, ensuring instant relief measures, etc. cannot be absolved of their responsibilities. In fact Govt. is supposed to foresee and plan ahead for the upcoming events.
However it is but natural for water to overflow its banks in the event of rainfall in its upper catchment and spill into flood plains which are basically its right of way. Extensive and often unplanned use of flood plains, disregarding the basic fact, that it is a part and parcel of the river, leads to flood damage. Thus the uncontrolled and indiscriminate development of flood plains due to pressure of population can be considered as one of the main factors responsible for the ever increasing flood damage reported from the different parts of the country in spite of the substantial investment in the flood-sector during the last six decades.
Due to financial constraints no flood control structure can be constructed to provide total or absolute protection against all conceivable magnitude of floods. Moreover not all “flood prone” areas are amenable to protection through conventional flood-control measures due to a variety of reasons. For details and subjects of Flood Management, Concept of Flood Plain Zoning, Broad Methodology, Attempts in the past, Flood forecasting, Flood warning and the Valley Scenario, Engineering preparedness for disaster mitigation etc. please consult my book “Environment in Jammu & Kashmir” published in 2013 by M/S Gulshan Books Srinagar.
Er. Ashraf Fazili (Retd. Chief Engineer)
The Flood Fury of 2014.