Flood or States Failure

Repairing Kosi’s breaches not a longterm solution

leave a comment »

Sudhirendar Sharma posits here that embankments have been more often problems, the root cause he contends, not the longterm solution to tame rivers like Kosi. He suggests to live with the flood rather than implementing the technology-centered solutions for controlling the course of a river. ‘Room for the river’ concept as being implemented by the Dutch planners is the step forward – he claims and calls for a public debate on this alternative approach based upon ‘broad political support’.

Source: http://indiatogether.com/2008/sep/env-kosi.htm

17 September 2008 – Dinesh Mishra has narrated stories about breaches on Kosi embankments since 1963 and the ritualistic manner in which the state has handled (or not handled) the situation (see here). Without doubt, it is neglect on the part of the hydrocracy that has kept millions under threat of floods, year after year and decade after decade. It is a blessing in disguise that the 18 August 2008 breach has brought the issue to mainstream discourse.

The worst is still to come

River embankments have been used world over as temporary flood control measure, and Bihar has been no different. But no river embankment has yet been built or can be built in future that will not breach. The report from a fact finding mission that I led, ‘Kosi Deluge: The Worst is Still to Come’, asserts that embankments on the Kosi are the root cause of the present crises. It seeks firm policy decisions to remedy the situation. Though considered unlawful, trapped communities have time and again engaged in creating artificial breaches for draining accumulated water from their surroundings.

Conservative estimates indicate that the current breach at Kusaha (in Nepal) may not be fully plugged before March 2009, the unwritten assumption being that till then the river will flow at or below the current level of discharge. This assumption may be seriously flawed as Kosi gets its peak flow towards the closing stages of the rainy season; the maximum ever discharge in Kosi has been a whopping 913,000 cusecs on October 5, 1968. So, things could get worse. Since floods are known to follow a pattern, one wishes that the river does not embarrass the engineers’ fraternity any further.

The 13-member fact finding team included flood expert Dinesh Mishra, ecological campaigner Pandurang Hegde, environmental researcher Gopal Krishna, river ecologist Rakesh Jaiswal and development practitioner Laxman Singh. We travelled in the Kosi flood plains in early March 2008. Associate members of this mission included Manas Bihari Verma (nuclear physicist), C Uday Shankar (hydro-geologist), Rakesh Bhatt (social anthropologist), Kavinder Pandey, Kameshwar Singh and Amarnath (all three from Bihar who accompanied for support). They not only traveled along the east and west banks of embanked Kosi but visited the Bhimnagar barrage and were witness to silt-laden on east and west canals emanating from the barrage.

The team was aghast to observe that neither central nor Bihar government ‘conducts any survey to assess the effect of flood control measures on socio-economic condition of the society’. The same holds true for Nepal as well.

It (embankment) jackets the river with the engineering assumption that a reduced cross section of the river will indeed increase its velocity and the power to dredge its base. Neither has happened in the case of the Kosi…
Playing politics with floods

In our report, we argue that while flood control measures like dams, embankments and their repairs can provide temporary respite. It is a phenomenon that needs longterm careful micro-level study of the factors causing shift in the course of the river.

There has to be an acknowledgement that even if one fills the breach in the embankment the problem does not get solved forever. Even when one chooses to ignore changing morphology, i.e., the change in shape and structure of land on account of barrage and embankments, the estimated lifespan of a dam (proposed in Nepal since 1937) and embankment are 25 years and 37 years respectively. This underlines the transitory nature of techno-centric interventions.

Note also that there is a precedence of embankment demolition in India. The embankments built along a length of 32 kilometres on river Damodar in 1854 were demolished in the year 1869. The British had soon realised that far from controlling floods, the embankments were submerging fertile lands for which the colonial rulers were forced to provide compensation. The first ever compensation of Rs. 60,000 on account of submergence due to embankment failure was given to a farmer in 1896 in then Bardwan district.

What are the options for Bihar?

That the embankments have been temporary solution to the scourge of floods and that these have outlived their age three times over raises serious question on strengthening them to plug the breach in the present scheme of things. It creates a set of discomforting scenarios and compelling questions: one, will reinforcing a breached portion of the over-aged dilapidated embankment not leave the remaining stretch of the embankment vulnerable, even at the present level of discharge? But if band-aid is not applied the human misery may continue for long.

Two, given the present timeline the breach is unlikely to be plugged before March 2009, by which time a sizeable population would have (hopefully) moved to alternate locations. Should then the river not be allowed to follow its new course? Three, as the existing embankments were neither designed as permanent solutions nor have these proved to be so, how far investment in maintaining them can be justified even if it means providing temporary relief in such calamity?

Given the fact that the Kosi has been embanked for at least 135 km downstream from the site of the breach at Kusaha, the flow having once left the embanked river could at no point have rejoined that course. Consequently, the river was compelled to go into three of its previous channels: Sursar, Mitchaiya and Belhi. In all, the meandering river has 15 different channels (options) through which it flows or has flown. The 380 villages trapped inside the embanked river have heaved a sigh of relief because the river is not flowing through its erstwhile course.

Flood control on Bihar’s rivers has never been easy. This is the venue of protest in Muzaffarpur, early this year, against embankments on another river, the Bagmati. Pic: Barh Mukti Abhiyan.

Locating a river as a blue streak on the map and feeling its currents while traversing through it make a world of difference. Our fact finding mission had an opportunity to undertake a boat ride along then main course of the Kosi, called Tilyuga which till 1948 was an independent river, to get a feel of the living waters of the river during March 2008. Moving against the current, it was observed that through its gentle meander the river was engaged in the ‘act’ of enriching the land by depositing rich silt. However, it was slowly but steadily corroding its embankment to liberate itself from its jacket.

Embankments have always been a double-edged sword. They jacket the river with the engineering assumption that a reduced cross-section of the river will indeed increase its velocity and the power to dredge its base. Neither has happened in the case of the Kosi as its massive cross section, varying in length from nine to 16 km at different locations along its length, has become a silt-dumping ground. Nothing could have been more shocking for the members of the mission than to observe from atop the embankment that the river-bed was several feet higher than the adjoining land. The high lands and low lands have been separated by the ubiquitous embankment, turning the low lying area permanently water-logged as the natural drainage from the area gets choked.

Now that the river has taken its course and that there is no way it could be brought back to its so-called original course over next eight to nine months, the best option for the state would be to initiate work on the root cause of the problem, i.e., of dismantling embankments. As the affected majority is moving to safer places and the river has already bypassed the existing embankments, there doesn’t seem any rationale in investing further on these structures that have failed several times over the past five decades.

Also, though considered unlawful, trapped communities have time and again engaged in creating artificial breaches for draining accumulated water from their surroundings. The general perception favours removal of embankments provided the act of demolishing does not create undesired conditions.

Like the Dutch hydrocracy that has started working on the ‘room for the river’ concept following failure to tame rivers Rhine and Meuse. The Delhi and Patna think tanks can emulate spatial flood protection measures as an alternative to jacketing of the river. (Spatial protection means creating space for the river to spread thereby reducing the impact of floods.)

The new approach not only warrants informed public debate but is based on broad political support. It is measures like these that need to be discussed and negotiated with communities in north Bihar, but not before the political stables in Patna (and in Delhi) get cleansed of their misconceptions!

Given its distinct geo-morphological (‘geo-morphology’ means the natural shape and structure of land) features and complicated hydrological characters, the Kosi is one of the Himalayan rivers that has yet to be understood in its entirety. It is high time policy makers gave up their outdated ‘conquest over nature’ paradigm and acknowledge ‘we shall have to learn to live with floods’.

Sudhirendar Sharma
17 Sep 2008

Written by dhepcha

September 18, 2008 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Reflection

Tagged with

Relief Funds for Nepal

with one comment

FON- LA will match all contributions received (upto $2500.00) for the relief efforts. We are looking to raise at least $5000.00. The funds will be sent to the Nepal Red Cross Society and/or the Prime Minister Disaster Relief Fund in Nepal.

Please click here to donate online using Paypal
Please send Check to the following address:
Make Check Payable to: Friends of Nepal-Los Angeles
Mailing address:
3500 Overland Avenue #110-51
Los Angeles, CA 90034

The total amount collected by NDVAD will be handed over to the Prime Minister’s Natural Disaster Relief Fund (PMNDRF) with the full list of names of the donors. Donors names will also be broadcasted in several media sources unless stated otherwise. Please visit the website on www.ndvad.org for further information and updates.

NBA UK has provided its bank account to raise the money on behalf of NDVAD. To help, you can either deposit the money directly into the bank account below or visit www.ndvad.org where you can donate using credit card, debit card or PayPal. Furthermore, can you please state if you do not want your name to be broadcasted in the media.

Account Holder: Nepalese Business Association UK (NBA UK)
Sort Code: 40-07-35
Account No.: 41690094

Bank : HSBC (Woolwich Branch)

The members of NDVAD are as follows:

Coordinators: Mahendra Kandel, Prof. Surya Subedi (OBE), Dr Raghav Prasad Dhital (OBE), Dr. Sumpurna Nanda Dhungana, Chiranjibi Dhakal

Members: Pashupati Bhandari, Suwas Gurung, udhab bhattari, Arjun Basnet, Raju Archarya, Tuka Chhetri Sandel, Dharma Tamang, Ishwor Danghol, Dayanidhi Dahal, Janak Adhikari, Hemkanta Sedhai, Manish Shrestha, Shekhar Kandel, Pipla Dewan, Surendra Thapaliya, Raju Thapa (Solicitor), Bigyan Prasai, Durga Pandey, Bhola Khanal

Mahendra Kandel
(Nepal Disaster Victims Aid Committee)

Written by dhepcha

September 15, 2008 at 2:40 am

Posted in Appeal

Tagged with , , ,

Relief Funds for Bihar

with one comment

How to transfer donation?

Online –Transfer your donations to ICICI bank
Name: Ashok Kumar Sharma,
A/C Number: 005301022273,
Branch: Jayanagar/Bangalore
Please mention flood relief and your name in remarks section while transferring funds
Also mention your name in the comments (will help us track).
After transfer send an email with the transfer details to ashok.1857@gmail.com
We will send you a confirmation for the same.
Please pass this post to your friends and relative who may be interested in supporting this relief operation.

Bihar Chief Minister Relief Fund
Write a cheque to
A/C Name: “Chief Minister Relief Fund, Bihar”
A/C No: 10839124928
Bank: State Bank of India, Secretariat Branch, Patna.
Put your Phone number, name and address on the back of the cheque.Deposit the cheque to the nearest State Bank of India cheque drop box
Disaster relief State Control Room Number:: 91-612-2217305/2215027/6452572

Sister NGO Prayaas
Institutional Donor and as well as individual can donate via our Sister NGO PRAYAAS
PRAYAAS Contact No: 91-80-28441463
Please mention flood relief and your name in remarks section while transferring fund.
Mention your name in the comments (will help us track)Send an email with details to: Amitesh.Bharti@in.bosch.com
make a CC to: ashok.1857@gmail.com
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by dhepcha

September 15, 2008 at 2:40 am

Posted in Appeal

Tagged with , ,

Flood victims face caste discrimination

leave a comment »

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7610999.stm

Hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless after floods hit the Indian state of Bihar last month. Some of the victims face the additional hardships that come from being members of the low caste dalit community. Rajan Khosla of the charity Christian Aid has been meeting some of them in the village of Mirzawaa, where 500 families live in temporary shelters.

“Let me be born again as an animal rather than as a harijan (dalit). We face more humiliation than they,” says Tetar Rishidev, a dalit from Mirzawaa village, in the district of Supaul.


After the floods in Bihar millions of people lost their homes, belongings and even family members. But for the dalits of Bihar there is further misery: the caste system.

In Mirzawaa village, Sakal Sadah is a dalit.

Today – unusually – he is happy. There is a food distribution and his family will get food. His children have been surviving on some leftover rice once in a day.

Sakal Sadah is a landless agriculture labourer and earns about 40 rupees (80 cents) for a 12-hour day.


Sakal Sadah 

Sakal Sadah works hard for little food

Now he’s worried: “Where will I get work now? Everywhere is water. No one is going to employ me, I am a harijan.”

Hundreds of dalit families are in the same situation as Sakal: they have been hardest hit by the Bihar floods.

In this emergency, when everyone should be provided with food, certain groups are denied access.

The plight of these communities in remote, rural areas is very serious – especially in the feudal state of Bihar.

They cling to the little they have. Many families have left behind one male member to keep an eye on their house and belongings.

Segregated society

Asdev Sadah, an elderly dalit, stayed behind to guard the house of his upper caste employer.

“I used to work in their fields,” he said.

“They wanted me to watch their house and belongings. I have to listen to them. They will provide my family food and work once they come back.


Flood victims in Bihar 

Many have been left with nothing after the floods

“I have nothing left in my house – because it was made of mud it has already collapsed. My malik’s (employer’s) house is strong and they have stuff kept inside.”

It seems a strange sort of society where an old man stays back, without food or shelter, taking numerous risks to guard the house of his feudal lord.

But Asdev no doubt knows full well that in this segregated society, there is no other support system for him and his family.

The relief camp in Sabela School in Madhepura is run by one of Christian Aid’s partner organisations who are doing all they can to help.

It was set up because organisers knew there were many dalit villages in the area.

I met Jamuna Devi and Puliya Musamaar here.


Flood victims in Bihar 

For many it has become a question of survival

They told me that they were not allowed to use the hand pump to get water as it belonged to upper caste people.

The same upper caste people also asked the camp organisers to move displaced people away because as dalits they would contaminate the entire place. Their request was refused.

“When will people understand we are also human beings?” Puliya asked. “We need food and water, our children also feel hungry.”

I asked one of the aid agencies running another relief camp whether they would have a dalit cook.

Their response was negative. They felt that not everyone would eat food cooked by dalits.

Christian Aid and its partner organisations are including two dalits in the cooking teams in the relief camps they run – thus ensuring that they are not excluded.

Everyone needs food in this crisis situation, so why should people like Sakal Sadah, Jamuna Devi and Puliya Musamaar be so discriminated against?

And if Asdev Sadah can work in the fields and loyally guard the house of his higher-caste employee, then why people should refuse to eat food cooked by them?

We have to challenge the system. I know the problem is gigantic. But efforts need to be made. Each one of us has to make a step forward.

Another aid agency working in this area assured me that they tried to treat displaced people equally.

The critical point is that while equality may be an accepted philosophy it can only happen once people also agree in practice to be equals.

Equality means that all people should get food and their rights and dignity are respected.

But flooding and discrimination seem to have taken those rights away.

Written by dhepcha

September 15, 2008 at 2:39 am

Posted in News

Tagged with ,

Kosi breaches repeatedly, governments merely fiddle

leave a comment »

Dinesh Mishra argues that the governments haven’t learnt anything from the mistakes of the past. In this chronicled history of embankment breaches, distressing is the fact that even rodents and foxes are not controllable by the state, who mulls over the integrated management of flood and the related socio-economic-political problems?

Source: http://www.indiatogether.org/2008/sep/gov-kosi.htm

9 September 2008 – Dr Jagannath Mishra, former Chief Minister of Bihar, while speaking of the flood situation in Bihar, said, �Nobody from the government has gone to Saharsa so far. If the people in Saharsa are surviving, they must be saying that we are engulfed in water since 10 days and nobody is there to think about us. This is quite worrisome. I will suggest that we must try to look after those surviving there. We must try to save them, whether by boats or a helicopter. The flood in Saharsa is not a flood, this is unprecedented�.we cannot call it a flood, it is a deluge.�

But wait, he was not referring to the recent floods (2008) in Bihar. He was making a speech in the Bihar Vidhan Sabha on 13 September 1984 about a similar incident that took place on 5 September 1984 near Navhatta in Saharsa district of north Bihar when the Kosi had breached its embankment at 75 kilometres south of the much talked about Bhimnagar Barrage and come out of the jacket just as it happened at Kusaha this year.

Obviously, the powers that be refuse to learn any lessons from past mistakes. Their executive wing, the Water Resources Department, is immune to any criticism and learning. The 1984 incident had uprooted nearly half a million people from their homes and engulfed 96 villages spread over seven blocks of Saharsa and Supaul districts then. They could return to their homes only after the Holi festival in March 1985.

This year, the Kosi embankment (locally called as the Eastern Afflux Bund) was breached near the Kusaha village in Nepal turning four panchayats of Nepal into a watery grave. These panchayats are Western Kusaha, Sripur, Haripur and Laukahi with a population of nearly 35,000. Counting continues about the number of villages trapped in floodwaters in Bihar. Supaul, Saharsa, Araria, Purnea, Katihar, and Khagaria had to bear the brunt of the unexpected floods.

According to official sources nearly 35 lakh people have been hit by the floods in these districts. Nearly three lakh people have been evacuated from the engulfed areas. Relief operations are reported to be picking up for the survivors and so are the rescue operations. Unless marooned people are accessed, relief operations carry little meaning. The relief that is reaching the people is not adequate as they were braving the floods for about a fortnight without any external assistance.

The blame game and mud slinging that is so common in such incidents are also in full swing. Many leaders of opposition have blamed the Bihar government for the breach. Meanwhile the government and its ministers are calling the breach a natural calamity and that the river is now trying to go to the east. It must be mentioned here that that the Kosi embankments have breached thrice on its western side and each time it was suggested that the river is trying to head west. The Kosi embankments were built in late 1950s and according to the agreement with Nepal, the responsibility of maintaining these embankments was vested with the Bihar government. Let us glance through the earlier breaches in the Kosi embankment.

The inaugural breach was on the western embankment in Nepal in 1963 near the village Dalwa. Binodanand Jha of the Congress Party was the chief minister and the responsibility of the breach was passed on to rats and foxes that dig holes in the body of the embankments through which water seeps and the embankment fails. The other reason for the failure was that because of the bad road conditions, the boulders could not be reached to the site.

In this connection, a meeting of the Irrigation Minister of Bihar, Dip Narayan Singh, the Panchayat Minister of Nepal, Kharag Bahadur Singh and the Irrigation Minister of Nepal, Dr Nageshwar Prasad Singh was held at the Kosi Project headquarters at Birpur on 22 August, 1963. The Nepalese side offered to extend all cooperation in undertaking any longterm programme to tame the Kosi. They also indicated that should a need arise for rehabilitation of the people in a similar situation, then its responsibility should be taken by the Government of India.

Then came the breach of 1968 at five places in Jamalpur (Darbhanga). This was caused due to the highest flow of 913,000 cusecs ever recorded in the river but an enquiry held by the Chief Engineer � Floods of CWC, P N Kumra revealed that the failure was once again caused by rats and foxes. The state was under the President’s Rule then.

The residents of eight villages in the Basantpur block of Supaul district had refused to be relocated outside the Kosi embankment and demanded instead a ring bundh for them and the eastern Kosi embankment formed a part of this ring. The Bhatania Approach Bundh that was constructed in 1968-69, collapsed between 10 and 19 kilometres below Bhimnagar in 1971 and many villages were washed away but eastern embankment had not breached. The Approach Bundh was constructed at a cost of Rs.3.17 lakhs but the repair cost of the same was to the tune of Rs.2.87 crores. The state was under the chief ministership of Bhola Paswan Shastri of Sanyukt Vidhayak Dal. Since the damage was done only to eight villages, the incident did not get wide publicity.

The next incident occurred in 1980 near Bahuarawa on the eastern embankment in Salkhua block of Saharsa district near 121st kilometre below Bhimnagar. The river eroded the embankment in about two kilometres reach but just after eroding, it receded very fast and did not spill on to the countryside. The state was ruled by Dr Jagannath Mishra of Congress Party then. In 1984, a tragedy as bad as Jamalpur struck the eastern embankment near Hempur village in the Navhatta block of Saharsa district, 75 kilometres below the Bhimnagar barrage. It had uprooted half a million people and had engulfed 96 villages in 7 blocks of Saharsa and Supaul districts. People could go back to their villages only after the Holi festival of 1985 when the breach got plugged. The breach was repaired at a cost of Rs.8.2 crores. Bindeshwari Dubey of Congress Party was the Chief Minister.

In 1991, there was a breach in the western embankment near Joginia in Nepal that led to a political crisis in Bihar and the Water Resources Minister of the state had to resign. This resignation was never accepted by Lalu Prasad Yadav who was the Chief Minister of the state then. This was a repeat performance of Bahuarawa breach where the river had receded after eroding the embankment. The repair of the embankment cost Rs.5.17 crores and a compensation of Rs.19.80 lakhs had to be paid to Nepal for temporary acquisition of the land and trees, etc.

And the Kusaha breach took place in the regime of Nitish Kumar and it will take about a year to get the complete story. Thus, virtually no party including the President’s Rule can claim that it was not involved in such an accident ever. Yet, the blame game continues unabated. There is no history of these breaches being plugged before March next year.

The practicality of embanking of a heavily silt carrying river is that the embankments would breach at regular intervals as we have seen so far. The river has breached its embankment eight times in a span of just 50 years. The government will keep on raising and strengthening these embankments. This will happen irrespective of which party is ruling the state and also in full presence of administration, officials of the water resources department and the police.

After blaming Nepal for non-cooperation, an interesting argument is given by the engineers and politicians: the river has changed its course and it now wants to move to east. If that is true, why on earth were the embankments constructed along the river? Were they not meant to prevent the river from moving either east or west? How did the Water Resources Department know that the river wanted to change its course? Why did it help the river accomplish its objectives? All this can happen in our country because there is no accountability at any level. The World Commission on Dams Report (2000) had emphasised accountability as one of its primary tools and the report was rubbished by Government of India.

All this bickering notwithstanding, the people of Bihar need help from outside. Be it governmental or otherwise. Those who have lost everything that they possessed will have to start from scratch. We used to suggest earlier that people should get compensation instead of relief, but this year it must be said that they should not only get compensation but relief also. This could be any kind that will help rehabilitate them.

The worst is yet to come when the water will recede and the people will get to know how much of their land is sand cast, how much has gone under waterlogging. That is the time they will come to know that the Kharif is already lost and the chances of Rabi also may not be there as moisture in the land will not allow for ploughing operations. The Kosi floods this year have been disastrous and no explanation whatsoever can satisfy the hapless victims of the tragedy.

One is reminded of a statement of Karpoori Thakur, a former Chief Minister of Bihar, in Bihar Vidhan Sabha during the zero hour. �I am pained to say that after reminding the officers time and again, this small repair work of the embankment was not done. The result is that the embankment has breached between 75 to 78 km and almost all of Saharsa district is under a sheet of water. The situation is horrifying there and the district administration or the engineers of the Irrigation Department have not done what they should have done in the situation. Rome was burning and Nero was playing his flute and this is what this Government is doing.� This again was a statement on the 10 September 1984.

Has anything changed ever since?

Dinesh Kumar Mishra
9 Sep 2008

Dinesh Kumar Mishra is the Convenor of Barh Mukti Abhiyan (Freedom From Floods Campaign). He is based in Patna. He is the author of the recently released book, ‘Trapped! Between the Devil & Deep Waters: The Story of Bihar’s Kosi River’.

Written by dhepcha

September 10, 2008 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Reflection

Tagged with ,

Nepali gov’t forms high-level flood relief panel

leave a comment »

Another panel and some more discussion. Unless people keep these powers under pressure by grassroots movements and continue the discussion going, hardly one can expect the end of these man-made disasters.

Source: http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90777/90851/6493302.html

The Nepali government on Thursday constituted a high-level panel to manage and monitor the post-flood situation in southeastern Nepal.

Emerging from the cabinet meeting held in the capital Kathmandu on Thursday, Minister for Health and Population Giriraj Mani Pokhrel told the media that the high-level management and monitoring committee led by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bamdev Gautam is assigned to monitor the relief distribution to the flood victims and maintenance of the spurs among others.

The Central Monitoring and Management Committee (CMMC) includes Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal” and Minister for Physical Planning and Works Bijaya Kumar Gachchadar.

The cabinet meeting also decided to adopt a quick delivery system to support flood-hit areas.

According to Minister for Information and Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the cabinet meeting has also approved a relief fund of 2.5 billion Nepali rupees (around 36 million U.S. dollars) and decided to release 500 million rupees (around 7 million U.S. dollars) immediately.

Around 10 Village Development Committees (VDCs) were in full or partial inundation in Sunsari and Saptari districts bordering India, some 220 km southeast of the capital Kathmandu, after the embankment of the Saptakoshi River suddenly broke down on Aug. 18.

Written by dhepcha

September 5, 2008 at 4:39 am

Posted in News

Tagged with ,