Flood is often branded as nature’s fury. Like the earthquake, volcanic eruption and avalanche, flood is the natural calamity which wreaks havoc in our lives, time and again. Not only do floods heap loads of untold miseries upon human and other living beings due to their recurrent occurring year after year, but also leave affected places of annihilation sans the salvage. Flood brings terrible economic hardships on those who survive its fury as it leaves behind trails of destruction popularly known as calamity. A flood is defined as an overflow of water that submerges land which is usually dry. European Union Floods Directive defines a flood as a covering by water of land not normally covered by water. There are several conditions which can lead to flooding across the world. These are hurricane, clogged drainage and rainfall. Too much rain can cause water to flow over otherwise dry land, leading to flooding. The rain water acting as erosive force can weaken the buildings and make them tumble after developing cracks. Sea waters tossing up and down under the influence of tsunami or hurricane can cause widespread damage. Flooding in lake and coastal areas can happen when large storms, tropical cyclones or tsunamis cause the water body to an overwhelming surge in nearby land areas. Such overflow of water destroys whatever comes on the way—bridges, roads, farms, factories, houses, vehicles and what not.
Flood also occurs when the embankment built along the sides of the river gives way resulting in the excessive flow of water on adjoining land. Sometimes, the excess water from the dam is deliberately released to prevent it from breaking, thereby causing floods. Another alarming cause of flood is the melting of snow and ice on mountain tops and in glaciers leading to snowmelt flood. This natural calamity is so fatal in nature that it causes massive destruction and despair in the areas where it strikes.
Flash floods are the most dangerous due to their tremendous speed and they are also unpredictable causing the
magnitude of destruction they trigger. The aftermath of floods is so devastating that their harsh effects on the environment and lives of survivors tantamount to a pathetic description of a beggar left for dying without any help from outside.
People are rendered homeless under the impact of severe floods apart from large number of deaths to both humans and animals and structural damages caused to infrastructure, lands and buildings. Flood disrupts the power transmission lines and sometimes damages the power generation units. Thus, the absence of power further aggravates the impact of flood in the surrounding areas. It also disrupts the supply of drinking water giving rise to either loss of drinking water or severe water contamination. It may also cause the loss of sewage disposal facilities. Deprivation of clean water and mixing up of human sewage in the flood waters raise the risk of water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid severely affecting the health of the people living in flood-affected areas. Communication network such as mobile and internet along with physical transport networks are also disrupted due to the damage caused to the roads, the rails and the airports in the flood-affected areas. Flood waters typically inundate farm land making it unusable which prevent crops from being planted or harvested resulting in a massive setback of food supply both to humans and farm animals. The alarming after-effects which severe flood brings along with the destruction all around is transformed into the economic hardship and hence, cast substantial psychological damage to those who survive the fury particularly in cases of deaths, serious injuries and loss of property to their family members and friends.
Urban flooding can result in chronically wet houses that help in the growth of indoor mould which is a threat to human health and causes respiratory problems. History shows us several evidences about the massive toll of lives which these floods have taken, leaving behind trails of destruction with plights of despair wherever it traversed. For instance, the 1931 China floods was one of the worst nightmares of massive depletion and destruction which the world had ever experienced with a loss of 2.5 to 3.7 million people. China was severely affected, with 86,000 people perishing as a result of flooding, and another 1.45 lakh from subsequent diseases all because of the failure of Banqiao Dam and also the onslaught of Typhoon Nina. We, in India, experience floods every year during rainy season. The State of Bihar witnessed one of its worst floods in the year 1987. That flood occurred due to overflow of the Koshi River, which claimed 1,399 human lives besides the death of 302 animals and destruction of public property worth Rs. 68 billion. In 2004, tsunami greatly affected India across the Indian Ocean, besides affecting Malaysia and other South-east Asian countries as well causing a large number of deaths as around 2.30 lakh people lost their lives across different regions including India.
Floods are a major cause of bringing adversity to common people living all across the river banks in India. They cause loss of property and livelihood every year pushing millions of Indians below the poverty line. In Assam alone, about 22.43 lakh hectares of land was flooded in July 2004 leaving thousands of residents homeless. Heavy rains across Maharashtra, including large areas of the metropolitan city Mumbai, which received 944 mm rainfall alone on July 26, 2005, killed at least 1,094 people. The fateful day is still remembered as the day Mumbai came to a standstill, when the city faced its worst rain ever. Mumbai International Airport remained closed for about 30 hours; Mumbai-Pune Expressway was closed for 24 hours; and transport as well as social life was seriously disrupted. That day displayed the wrath of floods, whose severity was felt over all the residents of Mumbai and neighbouring areas, as the flooding of the area cruelly affected the public life, transport and also inundated the slums. Kerala flood was one of the worst catastrophic events of recent times, which occurred last year in August, causing the death of 483 people. It was the worst flood in Kerala, after the great flood of ’99 that took place in 1924 due to the overflow of the Periyar River. The symbol ’99 denotes the year 1099 ME in the Malyalam Calendar (Kollam Era) for the English year 1924. Recently, in August 2019, floods and landslides in parts of four Indian States—Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat—caused widespread damage, killing more than 270 people and displacing over a million people and inundating thousands of homes, across these States. In the United States, flooding occurs in every state and territory. Statistical reports of that country show that floods kill more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning, posing great danger to the residents. Flood is, in fact, a threat experienced anywhere in the world. In order to cope with the fury of floods, the United States took several precautions. Their practices for disaster mitigation are one of the best in the world. The National Weather Service gives out the advice: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” for floods; it means that people get out of the area of a flood, rather than trying to cross it.
Floods can, however, bring forth many benefits, like recharging ground water, increasing nutrients in soil and making it more fertile. It can also spread nutrients to lakes and rivers, which can lead to increased biomass diversity and improved activity of fishing in the form of organised fishery. Freshwater floods help in maintaining ecosystems in river corridors and floodplain diversity. Some species of fishes use the floods to reach new habitats and bird population gains from the food. But, can all these make good for the human sufferings caused by the fury of floods? The answer is ‘No’. Not to mention about those who are washed away by flood, there are always countless number of people who are left stranded in dire need of being transported to safer places or relief camps. Moreover, the survivors of flood run the risk of getting afflicted with vector-borne diseases. Inclement weather during floods sometimes takes a toll on even the persons set out on rescue missions. In many countries worldwide, waterways which are prone to floods are carefully managed and controlled. Our rivers used as waterways need to be managed, too. Emergency measures are to be put in place. Our food disaster management in flood prone areas can be effective only when we honestly engage technically qualified people like the geologists, meteorologists, engineers and scientists for effectively tackling the precarious situations arising out of flood. Efforts should be made to contain the risk of spread of water-borne diseases. Critical areas, such as hospitals, emergency-operation centres, fire-brigades, police services and other sorts of rescue operations should be at the beck and call in the time and areas of flooding. There should be effective engineering design and construction of structures to control and withstand flooding. Planning for flood safety, while being in flood, calls for effective management for cooking, serving and transporting the eatables from one place to another to discard infection and contamination to the stranded survivors. In a nutshell, we require effective monitoring, forecasting, emergency-response planning, proper warning and timely response operations in flood-afflicted areas.