Orissa flood control policy needs review: experts

September 29th, 2008 - 2:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Sep 29 (IANS) The recent floods in the Mahanadi river that killed about 70 people and affected four million in Orissa have sparked debate and experts Monday said the state must review its flood control policy and take measures to avoid such large scale devastation in the future.Two floods of massive magnitude - in the Kosi River in Bihar and the Mahanadi river in Orissa have hit the nation in quick succession.

“The time has come to go to the root of the problem. We need a proper study and review of our flood control policy to prevent further devastation,” Ranjan K. Panda, convenor, Water Initiatives Orissa, told IANS.

“Over the last five decades, people were told that engineering solutions were the only answer to control floods,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wild Life Society of Orissa.

“However, the experiences of massive floods in 1955, 1982, 2001 and 2008 in the state have demonstrated the inadequacy and ineffectiveness of such solutions,” Mohanty said.

“A lobby of engineers, politicians and contractors has been successful in mobilizing large amounts of public funds to construct yet more bunds and embankments. All these measures proved futile,” Mohanty alleged.

Over 200,000 people have lost their homes in the recent floods, the worst-affected districts being Kendrapada, Cuttack, Jagatgsinghpur and Puri where 240 embankment breaches were reported.

“We must review our flood control policy and take necessary measures to prevent the devastation that it is causing in the state from time to time,” Mohanty said.

Earlier Mahanadi river used to bring down huge quantities of silt and the large fan like network of distributaries were useful in depositing silt over thousands of hectares of fertile agriculture land in the coastal delta districts.

In fact, for farmers in the delta, the annual floods were a boon as it enriched the soil with silt leading to rich harvests.

“When the state embarked on an embankment building spree since 1970s with generous doses of World Bank loans, the natural silt depositing process which had been going on for thousands of years was abruptly arrested since the embankments became an artificial impediment in free spillage,” Mohanty said.

“This resulted in accumulation of silt in the river bed leading to increase in bed height over the last four decades which decreased the water carrying capacity of the river,” Mohanty added.

“When the embankments breached, the duration of flooding increased because the water could not be drained due to obstruction posed by embankments in the delta. Therefore, we now see waterlogging in spite of a rapid decline in river level,” he said.

For hundreds of years, people of the Mahanadi delta had learnt to live with floods and had accordingly constructed houses only on high plinths which survived the worst of floods even though they were mud houses. The water used to drain out within a day or two after depositing rich silt which helped the crops.

“The state government has now said that it will build another dam downstream and control flood water. Instead of embarking on this high cost solution, the government should allow nature to play its role,” suggests Mohanty.

“Mitigation of flood damage would be more appropriate to manage the situation rather than attempts to stop the river from flooding into the historical flood plains which nature has developed over the centuries,” Mohanty added.

Former chief minister J.B. Patnaik, however, said the recent floods were man made. “The government deliberately allowed the water in Hirakud reservoir to increase and opened large number of gates at a time that worsened the situation.”

“The government created a flood situation to divert the public attention from the communal riots that has killed many people and made thousands homeless in the state’s Kandhamal district,” J.B. Patnaik alleged.

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