Flood Management

Disasters in India: Flood Management

By: R K Dave, The author is Former Senior Specialist (Policy/Plans and ICT), NDMA
Rapid urbanisation, combined with changing courses of river bodies are posing new challenges for flood management. The existing mechanisms for flood risk mitigation are inadequate for addressing the risks caused by floods in the present scenario. Recent floods in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand are cases in point.
Disaster Magazine Articles

Flooding occurs most commonly from heavy rainfall, when natural watercourses lack the capacity to convey excess water. It can also result from other phenomena, particularly in coastal areas, by a storm surge associated with a tropical cyclone, a tsunami or a high tide. Dam failure, triggered by an earthquake, for instance, will lead to flooding of the downstream area, even in dry weather conditions (UN-SPIDER, 2014). Various climatic and non-climatic processes can result in different types of floods: riverine-, flash-, urban-, glacial lake outburst- and coastal floods (UNISDR, 2017). In addition to inland rivers, a few originating from neighbouring countries—Kosi in Nepal are also adding to the flood risk in states such as Bihar.

Urban vulnerability to hazards is high given the rapid growth (Fig. 1) that is characterised by concentrated economic activity, unplanned development, and growing slum populations. High population densities, not only in urban areas but also along large rivers and coasts has compounded the vulnerabilities. Rampant and unplanned urbanisation has added to the risk of flood hazard and the situation has slipped out of the control of local governments.

An analysis conducted using the aqueduct flood tool (Fig. 2), developed by the World Resources Institute shows that India leads the list of 15 countries that account for 80 per cent of total population affected by annual floods—over 4.84 million lives are affected in India each year (Luo et al., 2015). India also tops the list of countries with highest  GDP per cent exposed to floods—approximately 14.3 billion USD, with Bangladesh as a distant second at 5.4 billion USD (ibid). It is estimated that INR 1,805 crore is lost each year to floods, computed as damage caused to crops, public utilities, houses, not to mention the loss of lives. In fact, about 7.55 million hectares of land is annually affected (CAG, 2017).

The 4th assessment report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that the incidence and intensity of flood, drought and cyclone events are going to increase throughout the world in the future. The report highlights some key trends for India, notably a general increase in temperatures with high seasonal variations in rainfall pattern (IPCC, 2007). Recent (2015) unprecedented floods in Banaskhanta District (Gujarat) and Chennai (Tamil Nadu), followed by the Kerala deluge over a very short span of time seems to  confirm the IPCC predictions.

Techno-Legal Arrangements for Flood Management

Disaster management in India is the responsibility of respective state governments. The central government’s role is to provide technical and financial aid to lower governmental units. Central agencies do not step in and take over a situation—they stay in the background, provide general guidance, financial support, technical assistance, and coordination across governmental units.

The National Government issues policies and guidelines from time to time for streamlining and strengthening disaster preparedness at all levels. A partial list of guidelines issued by the Union Government on flood management includes:

 National Disaster Management Act, 2005

 National Guidelines on Flood Management, 2008

 National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009

 National Guidelines on Urban Flood Management, 2010

 National Water Policy (1987, 2002, 2012)

 National Disaster Management Plan, 2016

 A report on 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms (2016).

The Guideline on Flood issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in the year 2008 were the first comprehensive document to provide direction for planning and developing flood mitigation capacities at various levels. This included recommendations on structural and non-structural measures, including strengthening/revising flood forecasting and early warning systems, flood proofing of new developmental projects, building knowledge-skill-abilities (KSA) through awareness, education and training, improving compliance regime and flood emergency response capabilities at various levels (NDMA, 2008).

NDMA delinked urban flooding from the subject of (riverine) floods and channelised its efforts to come up with separate guidelines for it, as they understood that strategies on flood disaster management largely focused on riverine floods, which were specific to rural areas. The National Guidelines on Urban Flood Management, issued in 2010, provides a comprehensive elaboration on the steps to be taken by various stakeholders for enhancing national urban flood resilience. The national guidelines precisely define the respective roles of key players including Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and
the Central Water Commission (CWC) (NDMA, 2010).

CWC and MoUD are charged with responsibilities associated with flood management in general and urban flood in particular. CWC holds the general responsibility of initiating, coordinating and furthering consultation with state governments and initiating schemes for the control, conservation and utilisation of water resources in the respective state for the purpose of
flood risk management, irrigation, drinking water supply and water power generation (CGWB, 2016).

In addition to its other responsibilities, MoUD is also mandated to be the nodal agency for flood management, tasked with establishing the urban flood cell in the ministry; state nodal departments and ULBs and facilitate urban flood risk assessment, forecasting and warning both at the national level and state/UT levels through the required mechanisms (NDMA, 2008).

IMD’s role has been extremely vital, both in rural and urban flood management. The agency is responsible for establishing and managing automatic rainfall gauges (ARGs) for real time monitoring, with a density of 1 in every 4 sq km in all 2325 class I, II and III cities and towns; deployment of the Doppler Weather Radar Network to cover all areas for enhanced ‘local-scale forecasting capabilities’ with maximum possible lead-time; development of a protocol for watershed based sub-division of urban areas and issue watershed delineated  rainfall forecast. Local-scale forecasting has become more relevant in the current scenario with extreme variability in rainfall within small geographical areas (ibid).

India did not have a National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) until 2015. NDMP addresses how the nation, at all levels, will develop, employ, and coordinate core mitigation capabilities to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. Mitigation actions include all structural and non-structural risk treatments appropriate to hazards, and leverage or incorporate new, existing and developing disaster risk reduction programmes.

Disaster Management System in Kerala: Floods 2018

Kerala is one of the few states in India that has an established institutional system with qualified and trained human resources. As mandated in the National Act, the  State has a State Disaster Management Plan (SDMP) and District Disaster Management Plan (DDMP) developed on the basis of the risk foot prints. In addition, the State had taken multiple initiatives for flood mitigation, such as Operation Anantha led by the chief secretary (PTI, 2016). Kerala is also a unique example in planning and establishing a well equipped State Emergency Operation Center (SEOC). But the quantum of losses inflicted by the recent floods put a question mark on the State’s disaster preparedness and its effectiveness. A closer look at the floods shows that there was a gradual onset—not an event akin to a flashflood, where there is no time to issue an alert. Following the incessant rainfall, the State was forced to open the gates of 35 dams to release the flood runoff. For the first time in 26 years, all five flood barriers of the Idukki were opened (CWC, 2018). This caused a cascading effect, aggravating the flood situation. The NDRF and army were deployed and relief teams pulled in for rescue, as flooded hospitals struggled to provide care to the injured
and sick.

Flood Management | Analysis

The river basin area and houses in Kerala were submerged with incessant rains, combined with water released from reservoirs. Any release of water from dams/reservoirs would aggravate flood situation in the command area downstream of the dam site but under unusual conditions releasing water is the only way to reduce pressure to prevent ‘dam failure’. As per the standard practice, dam authorities follow, the rule curve for maintaining water level in reservoirs at the onset of monsoon. Keeping minimal permissible level as per the rule curve will provide flexibility to the operator for using the reservoir space for flood moderation. A very tight collaboration between IMD, CWC and dam authorities is essential for effective water and flood management. A holistic review of the situation suggests that an absence of integrated and transparent mechanism connecting IMD forecasts, CWC’s predictions of daily inflow into reservoirs and Dam management plan resulted in a situation where the dam authority was forced to release a huge quantum of water. The situation worsened in the absence of effective alert and warning system in vulnerable areas. National agencies, along with dam authorities responsible for performing their specific role in implementing flood disaster mitigation measures failed to a great extent in Kerala.

With most of the land in the state inundated and service infrastructures non-functional, response (search, rescue and relief – SRAR) operation was a humongous task for the Union and State agencies in the aftermath of Kerala flood. Standard flood disaster response plan did not work in an unanticipated scenario with widespread flood occurrence (at the same time) in majority of districts in the State. Lacunae and shortcomings become obvious when the joint response team are put into an unknown situation with an unexercised and untested incident action plan in their hands.


Urbanisation and Disasters: Unprecedented challenges faced by the administration for water management, including urban floods, would need to be addressed, keeping rapid urbanisation in consideration. At the current pace, the number of people living in urban areas is expected to increase to twice the current figures, and reach 800 million by 2050 (United Nations, 2014). City and town land use planning need to be revised based on these estimates and climate change effects on temperature and rainfall variability.

Aggradation of Rivers and Reservoirs: Reducing capacity of rivers, reservoirs and dams by excessive aggradation leads to inaccurate flood forecasts and adds to flood vulnerabilities. The majority of the Indian rivers and reservoirs need a reassessment of their existing capacity for planning and implementation of dredging operations.

Inter State Flood Risks: States need to work together to prepare, mitigate, respond and recover from common hazards and risks that may affect them jointly or independently. The Union Government should plan and establish an inter-state hazard profiling and mitigation management mechanism to address cross border hazards, including river and dam management for controlling floods.

Science and Technology (S&T) in Disaster Management/Flood management:  S&T plays an important role in flood risk monitoring, measurement, analysis and forecasting. New Internet of Things (IoT) based solutions, connected with simulation models, are required to be planned and designed for supporting flood risk mitigation objectives.

Flood Mitigation Funding: India has a well established funding mechanism (NDRF/SDRF) for disaster response and relief assistance operations. However, a National Disaster Mitigation Fund (NDFMF) is yet to be established. As an out-of-box solution, this NDFMF scheme should be planned and established in the country for reducing flood risk and vulnerabilities in time bound manner.

Flood Risk Mapping: The central government should undertake the responsibility for developing and disseminating integrated flood hazard maps for the whole country covering all floods and secondary hazards associated with it.  NDMA, in close collaboration with ministries and departments in the Indian government, state and local level agencies should develop and update flood risk maps both for rural and urban areas in the country. Separate risk mapping should be done for interstate and cross border flood hazard.

Risk Tranfer: A national flood risk map should form the basis for planning mitigation measures including risk transfer. The common citizen should be taken as the base criteria for risk transfer insurance at the domestic level. All public infrastructures in risk zones should be integrated with a ‘selective risk insurance mechanism’ (government insuring its public finance and public and private assets etc.) to provide cover from impacts due to calamities.

Core Capabilties: The national disaster management system should re-define preparedness standards for core capabilities including hazard identification, institution, infrastructure, logistics, training and education, alert and warning etc., along with providing measurable key performance indicator (KPI). Sendai framework (2015-2030) provides a good basis for identification of core capabilities and performance indicators for countries where core capabilities and performance indicators have not been defined so far (UNISDR, 2015).

Accountability and Audit: As per the CAG report on Schemes for Flood Control and Flood Forecasting, against a target for the 12th Five Year Plan for installation of 219 telemetry stations, 310 base stations and 100 flood forecasting stations, only 56 telemetry stations had been installed as of August 2016 by CWC (CAG, 2017). Most of the telemetry stations installed during the 11th Five Year Plan period were non-functional, owing to which real time data was not available at these stations. It has become necessary for the central government to plan and establish standard mechanism for “accountability and audit” of investments on disaster preparedness. Funds utilisation/performance audit should be made mandatory for disaster risk management activities to ensure responsible utilisation of funds and to measure accomplishments or performance.


Central Water Commission (CWC), 2018. Study Report: Kerala Floods of August 2018, Available at: https://bit.ly/2Nv2eJy

Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), 2017. Schemes for Flood Control and Flood Forecasting, Available at: https://bit.ly/2QKBYIX

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, [Pachauri, R.K and Reisinger, A. (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland.

Luo T., A. Maddocks , C. Iceland, P. Ward and H. Winsemius, 2015. World’s 15 Countries with the Most People Exposed to River Floods, World Resources Institute, March 5.

Press Trust of India, 2016. Kerala’s ‘Operation Anantha’ to be replicated nationally, Business Standard, February 29.

Department of Social and Economic Affaris, United Nations, 2014. World Urbanization Prospects: Highlights, Available at: https://bit.ly/28SlWYj

United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), 2017. Flood Hazard and Risk Assessment, Words into Action Guidelines: National Disaster Risk Assessment Hazard Specific Risk Assessment, Available at: https://bit.ly/2QMprF4

__________________, 2015. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, Available at: https://bit.ly/2ICrj1S

United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER), 2014. Floods, Available at: https://bit.ly/2xsKCng

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *