A year after September -14 floods

After the September floods, the J&K Govt. stated that the state suffered the following losses:

Amount of loss:  Rs. 1 trillion

Families affected: 12.5 lakhs

Housing sector: over Rs. 30,000 crores

Business sector: over Rs. 70,000 crores

Structures damaged : 83,044 pucca houses (fully), 96,089 partially

21,162 kachha houses (fully), 54, 264 partially

99,305 huts, cowsheds.

Lives lost : 281 (186 in Jammu & 85 in Kashmir), 29 missing

Areas under flood water for over one month: posh localities of Rajbagh, Jawaharnagar & Indranagar.

Villages affected : 5642 (3,153 in Jammu & 2489 in Kashmir)

Villages submerged for over 2 weeks : 800

Bridges/culverts damaged: over 550

Roads damaged: 6000 kms.

Carcasses removed from Srinagar city: 1500

Garbage : hundreds of tons removed

6-9 months children vaccinated: 7 lakhs

Many deliberations were held by various organizations regarding the devastating floods; one was the two day seminar held in November -14 at Lalit Palace Hotel, organized by the Deptt. of Earth Sciences Kashmir University and Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR). The participants in the seminar were: Central Water Commission-(CWC), National Institute of Hydrology-NIH, National Geographical Research Institute-NGRI, Central Ground Water Board-CGB, National Disaster Management Authority NRSC/ISRO and National Green Tribunal, India Meteorological Department (IMD) and State Government Agencies- Irrigation & Flood Control (IC), Public Health Engineering (PHE), Rural Development, LAWDA, Srinagar Development Authority-(SDA), IMPA, Agriculture Department , academia from Kashmir University, Indian Institute of Technology-NIT Srinagar, Jammu University, and various segments of the civil society, including experienced professionals. I had also an opportunity to participate in the seminar.

Various issues were deliberated upon like: Important contributory factors – Geography of Jhelum Basin, Extreme weather Event, Overflow of Jhelum, Heavy Rainfall (ruling out the cloudburst, ethical question of Kandizal & Illegal Mining), Visible damage in the Kashmir valley,Preventive Measures Suggested by the Experts & other measures, Initiatives taken post September floods for overcoming shortcomings, Road Ahead, Initiatives suggested by the experts, Key Issues, Short term and Urgent recommendations, Urgent Long-term Recommendations besides the Long-term Recommended Measures.

The seminar proved to be an excellent opportunity for exchange of ideas between experts from different field. The real challenge lies in dealing with the problems on the ground and overcoming the existing obstacles.

Sushoba Barve the Executive Director of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation has put forth the findings  discussed at the seminar on the subject held by CDR.

What measures are required for flood mitigation in the Jhelum basin? We cannot prevent floods but steps can be taken to manage floods better. At a seminar on the Kashmir floods last year, experts put forward many suggestions.

In the process of urbanization, Srinagar has lost many wetlands and water bodies over the decades. Flood spill channels have been encroached upon and residential colonies have come up there. During the floods of last year, these areas were the worst affected. Floodwaters followed he natural path and inundated whatever came in their way. Restoration of wetlands, water bodies, and  the removal of encroachments in the flood spill channels should be high on the list of the state government.

Coordination needed

In J&K, the Irrigation and Flood Control department has no power over Lakes, Waterways and the Wullur Lake as these come under separate authorities. Coordination and decision making was difficult during the 2014 floods. As all the lakes, water bodies and the river are integrated, there needed to be swift coordinated response by Irrigation and Flood Control Department. Instead it was delayed.  Control of all the water bodies/lakes and wetlands in the Jhelum Basin needs to be brought under one regulatory authority for their integrated management, being a single catchment area served by the same wetland. Maharashtra created such an authority some years ago for this purpose and has now an integrated and cohesive policy.

Revision of the existing land use policy and building codes is required along with strict enforcement and implementation to minimize human and economic loss. Urban planning is going to be a challenge for the Srinagar Development Authority, in the light of last year’s floods. Should horizontal development of Srinagar stop? Land for housing is scarce, as a result people have built houses on wetlands.

Among the issues that were discussed by experts after the floods was the question of whether  the railway line obstructed the floodwaters, thus making Srinagar more vulnerable. Proper studies will have to be undertaken to find out the truth and suggest remedies for the future. This also raises the question of the urgent need to have an environmental impact assessment of all existing and future developmental projects to ensure minimum loss of public properties, livelihoods of people and the infrastructure.

As people and communities are almost the first respondents in any natural disaster, comprehensive community-based disaster risk reduction plans need to be prepared at the district level on priority and communities given training on how to handle such emergencies. Several Indian states already have such trained community response teams.

For several years, the J&K government’s proposal for the construction of an alternative flood channel has been pending before the Central government. Following the floods, there has been a loud public demand that this be undertaken urgently. This involves massive expenditure. Although the experts had supported it, there is new evidence that is making it necessary to have a relook at this proposal. Academics have been continuously doing studies since the floods bringing out new facts. According to some expert observations, there is evidence to show that the floodwaters from Srinagar were not moving towards Wullar Lake as should have naturally happened. Further studies are needed to determine the causes for this – if it is true – and more so to make Srinagar less vulnerable.

All this makes it abundantly clear that knowledge-driven, all-inclusive multidisciplinary flood planning needs to be initiated on a priority by engaging technocrats with relevant expertise to develop insights into flooding mechanisms in the Jhelum Basin building on comprehensive existing studies and last year’s experience.

As the 8 hour travel time for water wall was precious to act in September-14, so was the year that has passed since September last and no practical steps seem to be taken on ground at least by way of time bound dredging (deploying floating/other dredgers) of river Jhelum and FS channel that would increase the carrying capacity of river from 25,000 to 45,000 cusecs and of FS channel from 5000 to 10,000 cusecs to carry the brunt of minor floods. The shortfall of other 65,000 cusecs out of the total 1,20,000 cusecs warrants long term measures as recommended by the experts.

Meanwhile people could not wait and they have gone ahead with the restoration of their damaged structures/shops with over-delayed or even false promises of aid from the rulers, which is supposed to be their genuine right and not a gift from the rulers.

Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili (Former Chief Engineer)

About shahishaharyar

Chartered civil engineer,Fellow institution of engineers India, Member Indian road congress,Member American society of civil engineers, Presented over 70 papers in various seminars,published books over 36 on environment,history, sufi saints, genealogy,free lance writer, travelled in India and abroad.

Comments are closed.