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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Orissa 'condemned to flooding'
Villagers on embankment
Floods have become a fact of life in Orissa
By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneshwar

Experts in the eastern Indian state of Orissa say it should brace itself for more severe flooding in years to come because of deforestation, faulty flood control planning and global climate changes.

It is a good idea to develop strategies to live with flooding - while trying to minimise the damage.

Flood expert BN Sinha
Nearly 10 million people in the state are currently struggling with the worst floods in 50 years.

More than 15,000 villages have been flooded and more than 200,000 houses have been damaged.

But this was just the beginning of the monsoon in this part of the state.

Dr BN Sinha, a retired professor of geography and an authority on floods in India, says flooding in Orissa has to be accepted as a part of life.

Developing strategies

"The monsoon in this part of the state is highly unpredictable," he says.

He believes strategies should be developed to help people learn to live with regular flooding.

Women by tents
People were only just recovering from the cyclone
Only two years ago, the state was hit by two cyclonic storms which ravaged coastal areas.

Many local people were still living in temporary shelter after the cyclone when the recent floods hit them, bringing untold misery.

The state's main Hirakud reservoir can only hold 10% of floodwaters.


Deforestation upstream and downstream over the last three decades has silted up rivers.

Orissa map
As a result, the riverbeds have risen alarmingly and several towns and villages have now been submerged.

Dr Sinha made it clear that embankments to save villages do not really solve the problem.

"Once there is a breach in the embankment, the floods will devastate the whole area."

He says that while the Hirakud dam has helped contain minor floods, it cannot control severe flooding.

He predicts these will hit the state every 10 years.

Climate factors

Environmentalist Professor Radhamohan says that global climate changes have increased the frequency and intensity of floods and storms in Orissa.

The state also lies in an area of natural weather depressions.

"Add this to the deforestation in the catchment areas of the Hirakud dam, and rising river beds in the delta region and we can't escape from natural disasters like the 1999 super cyclone and this year's floods."

Mr Radhamohan warns of frequent tidal surges in hundreds of coastal villages.

"All our efforts to contain flooding have failed because we never tried to find the root cause of these floods," he says.

"The Hirakud dam is highly silted up and has developed cracks," he says.

The river bed has risen because its carrying capacity has been reduced by silting - largely caused by massive deforestation.

"Many towns and villages are already below the river bed. You can't stop floods by raising hundreds of embankments."


He also criticises the state's policy makers for not giving much thought to regenerating the natural forest.

"Planting policy in the river catchment areas has had too many flaws. There are no dams there to contain flood-affected areas," he adds.

Orissa's development commissioner, Srinivas Rath, accepts that deforestation poses a real threat.

But he says that in the 1990s, the government imposed a ban on cutting down trees.

"A massive plantation programme is going on to regenerate forest very fast in the hilly slopes and degraded forests so that soil erosion can be effectively checked," he says.

But he adds that all this will take time.

See also:

20 Jul 01 | South Asia
Orissa flood victims trapped
22 Jul 01 | South Asia
Charities plead for India flood aid
19 Jul 01 | South Asia
One million stranded by Orissa flood
28 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Red Cross warns on climate
04 Aug 00 | South Asia
Flood disaster in India
13 Jun 00 | South Asia
Flood causes damage in India
22 Feb 00 | South Asia
Oxfam attacks Indian disaster policy
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