Floods constitute 52% of all natural disasters in India.
By Yashobanta Parida and Parul Bhardwaj
The news of a normal monsoon this year caused much cheer in policy corridors, given its importance amidst the spectre of a slowdown. But incessant monsoon rains in states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have played havoc, with the death toll rising. As per the National Emergency Response Centre (NIDM), 1,614 people were killed and 1.8 million displaced (as on September 25, 2019) in 14 states. Widespread floods have also damaged crops, houses and infrastructure.
India is one of the most flood-affected nations in the world, after Bangladesh. Floods constitute 52% of all natural disasters in India, and the costliest as well, with over 63% of all damages attributed to it. Between 1980 and 2017, 70,901 people were killed, 1,395 million affected, and 56 million houses damaged due to floods. The economic losses due to this destruction stood at `3,686,340 million, which translates to 0.43% of GDP (see table). The damages translate to 2.68% of the Centre’s total expenditure every year.
The temporal impact of floods is also varied. According to geo-climatic conditions and socio-economic vulnerability of states, the impact of monsoons remains diverse—UP and Bihar have borne the maximum brunt of floods this year. The average annual flood damage as a percentage of GSDP is the highest in Himachal Pradesh (2.35%), followed by Andhra Pradesh (1.62%), Odisha (0.9%) and Bihar (0.85%), with the lowest damage in Maharashtra (0.03%).
The state-wise average flood fatalities per year are highest in UP, followed by Bihar, Gujarat, West Bengal, Andhra and Maharashtra; among the major states, Haryana is at the other end of the spectrum. The average damages as a percentage of government expenditure are reported to be the highest in Himachal Pradesh (8.73%), followed by Andhra (5.29%), UP (5%), and the lowest print is seen in Madhya Pradesh (0.19%).
Apart from state-wise flood impact, as per a 2019 article in the Environment and Development Economics by Yashobanta Parida, there exists an inverse relation between average flood fatalities and real per capita income over 1980-2017. Among the major states, the ones that are low income (proxied by per capita income) such as Bihar, UP, Andhra and Odisha bore the maximum brunt of the deluge. This could be explained by the fact that high income states are adept at spending more on disaster risk reduction measures.
The paper dwells into another interesting finding based on the political economy of occurrence of floods. Specifically, there exists a relationship between the roles of politics in the prevention of flood fatalities—the paper presents evidence that both state election years and political alignment between the state and Centre influence flood fatalities. In state election years, the probability is that 21 fewer people will be killed due to floods when compared to a non-election year, as the incumbent state government tries to minimise fatalities, which, in turn, increases the government’s chances of returning to power.
There is evidence that when both the Centre and state have the same political or coalition party in power, that state experiences lower flood fatalities when compared to non-alliance political parties in power—the probability is 16 fewer people will be killed. This political bias is a result of the fact that the Centre is more reluctant to release disaster funding to states that have a non-alliance party in power. The data also suggests that the Centre is often not willing to declare a specific natural disaster as a national disaster if there is a non-alliance political party in the state.
Based on these research findings, to mitigate the impact of floods, we suggest a few measures for the policymakers. One, state governments should focus on economic development by building flood-resilient infrastructure—monitoring embankments of key flood-prone rivers and improving river connectivity, apart from construction of canals, assumes significance. Two, suitable techniques and methods should be in place to predict accurate rainfall, especially in low-lying areas, and appropriate rainfall warning systems be installed in vulnerable areas. Three, long-term flood management requires a healthy coordination between the Centre and states. Unless concerted efforts are undertaken in these areas, the deluge will become a regular event.
Parida is research fellow, Verghese Kurien Centre for Excellence, Institute of Rural Management, Anand; Bhardwaj is an independent researcher based in Delhi. Views are personal