Floods and disaster management in India

ForumIAS announcing GS Foundation Program for UPSC CSE 2025-26 from 18th June. Click Here for more information.


India is plagued by various kinds of natural disasters every year, such as floods, droughts, earthquakes, cyclones, and landslides


  • India is considered as the world’s most disaster prone country on account of its unique geo-climatic conditions.
  • Millions of people are affected every year due to natural disaster amount to a major share of the Gross National Product (GNP).
  • The Indian subcontinent is among the world’s most disaster prone areas.
  • Around 85% of India’s area is vulnerable to hazard.

Statistics related to natural disaster in India:

  • About 60% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities.
  • Over 40 million hectares is prone to flood.
  • About 8% of the total area is prone to cyclone and 68% of the area is susceptible to drought.

Need for disaster risk management:

  • Disaster affects the normal routine and it is not easy to comeback to. The risk is reduced by various disaster management systems.
  • Over the last two decades more than 850000 people have died from disaster in Asia-Pacific.
  • 7 of the top 10 countries in terms of number of deaths due to disaster are in the Asia-Pacific.

What are the reasons responsible for frequent flooding in India?

Man made Reasons:

  • Lacks of drainage upgrade works.
  • The encroachment and filling in the floodplain on the waterways
  • Obstruction by the encroachment and filling in the floodplain on the waterways
  • Deposits of building materials and solid wastes with subsequent blockage of the system.
  • Flow restrictions from under-capacity road crossing (bridge and culverts).
  • Lack of planning and enforcement has resulted in significant narrowing of the waterways and filling in of the flood plain by illegal developments.
  • Encroachments of nalas, lakes and other water bodies
  • Choking of streams and stormwater drains
  • Constructions on the riverbed
  • Weather pattern and topography leads to regular flooding like in Brahmaputra River.
  • As the ice melts in the Himalayas, the water channels downstream swell. When the river enters Assam from Arunachal Pradesh, it experiences a steep fall in gradient, causing the water to hurtle down at a furious pace.
  • During the monsoon, when the river is swollen with the precipitation from the Eastern Himalayas, its channels can’t take the huge volumes gushing down at high speed. Siltation and sedimentation in the channels compound the situation.
  • Human hand in such floods as well. With increasing deforestation in the Eastern Himalayas, the run-off has increased, which means as the water rushes towards the plains, it carries along more sediment.
  • The riverbed in the plains is full of sediment, impairing the Brahmaputra’s carrying capacity.

2-Physiological Reasons:

  • About 60% of the flood damage in India occurs from river floods while 40 per cent is due to heavy rainfall and cyclones
  • Damage by Himalayan rivers account for 60% of the total damage in the country.
  • Flood occurs when water overflows or inundates land that’s normally dry.
  • Most common is when rivers or streams overflow their banks.
  • Excessive rain, a ruptured dam or levee, rapid ice melting in the mountains, or even an unfortunately placed beaver dam can overwhelm a river and send it spreading over the adjacent land, called a floodplain.
  • Flooding is a natural phenomenon because the rivers in the Northeast, mostly originating in the Eastern Himalayas, experience a sharp fall in gradient as they move from Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan to reach Assam’s floodplain.
  • Most of these rivers carry large amounts of sediments, which then get deposited on the floodplains, reducing the storage capacity of the river channels and resulting in inundation of the adjoining floodplains.
  • Flooding is partly anthropogenic as the sediment load carried by the rivers is accentuated through “developmental interventions in the Eastern Himalayas that result in deforestation.
  • The principal causes of vulnerability include rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, poverty, degradation of the environment resulting mismanagement of the resources, inefficient public policies.

What are the recent examples of flooding in India and its possible causes?

  • Example of Bangalore:
  • In a separate report, ‘Wetlands, Treasure of Bangalore: Abused, Polluted, Encroached and Vanishing’ (December 2015), co-authored with Sudarshan P Bhat, Asulabha K S, Sincy V, and Bharath H Aithal, Ramachandra wrote that 98% of the famous lakes of Bengaluru were encroached, rendering the city vulnerable to flooding even after normal rain.
  • Bengaluru had more than 250 lakes about 50 years ago. Today, fewer than 10 remain in a healthy state.

2– Srinagar floods:

After the Srinagar floods of 2014, a report by the New Delhi-based nonprofit sustainable development advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) noted the following points:

  • More than 50% of Srinagar’s lakes, ponds and wetlands have been encroached upon to construct buildings and roads.
  • The demands of urban development very often turn a city into a flatland that militates against its natural topographical and hydrological features.
  • When there is heavy rainfall, the water follows the city’s natural incline.
  • Forgotten river channels sometimes spring back to life, but with disastrous consequences.

In Guwahati :

  • The human culpability for the floods increases.
  • The deluge here seems similar to the ones in Bengaluru, or other Indian cities.
  • Guwahati’s bowl shape makes it prone to waterlogging; poor urban planning has increased its vulnerability.
  • Wetlands that could have soaked up the rainwater or channelled them to the Brahmaputra are choked with garbage; they get clogged during heavy rain and the water spills on to the roads.
  • A 2014 report of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority highlighted that The city does not have a planned drainage system to take care of sewage, so the natural channels become all the more important. The condition of these channels are not very convincing as they are constantly covered with garbage.
  • Most wetlands in Guwahati are on the verge of extinction today.
  • Unless natural sponges are revived and restored, India’s cities will remain vulnerable to manmade flooding, especially as climate change makes rainfall patterns increasingly more erratic.

What are the most devastating examples of flooding in India and its affects?

  • Gujarat floods in 2005, at least 123 people died and 250,000 people had to be evacuated.
  • Brahmaputra floods in 2012, 540 animals including 13 rhinos were passed away
  • Ladakh flash floods in 2010, around 300 people were died.
  • South Asian floods in 2007, At least 3000 people were died and 30 million people were affected
  • Uttarakhand floods in 2013, around 1000 people were die
  • Jammu and Kashmir floods in 2014, almost 138people were died and 11,000 people had to be evacuated
  • Recent flood in Bihar have killed 56 people since Sunday and affected more than six million. More than two million people have been evacuated from their homes
  • Recently, at least 221 people have die, and more than 1.5 million have been displaced by monsoon flooding across the South Asian countries of India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
  • In Arunachal Pradesh too, the flood situation continued to be grim in several districts with recurring landslides disrupting road traffic.

Which are the flood prone areas in India?

  • Areas which are subject to serious floods are mainly in the Plains of Northern India.
  • It is estimated that over 90 per cent of the total damage done to property and crops in India is done in the Plains of Northern India.
  • Annual deposition of silt and sand raises the bed and thus reduces the capacity of the river to accommodate flood water.
  • The Assam Valley is another fertile belt which is affected sometimes seriously by flood havocs.
  • The Brahmaputra which drains this valley receives from its tributaries, the Dibang and the Luhit, a large amount of water heavily laden with silt.
  • Floods are almost a regular feature in coastal lowlands of Odisha
  • The deltas of the Godavari and the Krishna.
  • Lower courses of the Narmada and the Tapi

What are the Impacts of flooding?

Natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, droughts, etc are huge economic burden on the developing economies like India. There are some consequences of flood in India:

  • Floods caused far greater havoc and tragedy
  • Access to schools during the flood months is restricted, because the schools are either inundated or are make-shift relief centres.
  • Water and sanitation issues require attention during the flood months
  • Floods are accompanied by outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhea.
  • Access to veterinary services is limited resulting in high cattle mortality and morbidity.
  • People in the flood-prone areas in the Northeast, by and large, practice subsistence agriculture. While the land remains inundated for an extended period in the monsoons, limited irrigation coverage (less than 10 per cent in Assam, compared to 49 per cent as an average for the country) constrains intensification of agriculture in the dry months.

What are the safety measures needed for natural disaster?

  • There is need to adopt a multi dimensional endeavour involving diverse scientific, engineering and financial and social processes.
  • The need to adopt a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach and incorporation of risk reduction in the developmental plans and strategies.
  • Disaster management need to occupy an important place in India’s policy framework as it is the poor and the under-privileged who are worst affected on account of calamities/disasters.
  • Providing necessary support and assistance to State Governments by way of resource data, macro-management of emergency response, specialized emergency response teams, sharing of disaster related data base etc.
  • Coordinating government’s policies for disaster reduction.
  • Ensuring adequate preparedness at all levels.

What are the measures to control flooding in India?

  • Flood governance through resilience:
  • Flood governance through resilience building could bring about sustainable change in this situation.
  • This could be an outcome of three broad sets of action: Reducing vulnerability, increasing access to services, and maximising productivity through optimal use of available resources.
  • The dominant narrative of flood protection includes measures such as embankments, dredging rivers and bank strengthening.
  • Community-based advance flood warning systems, for example, have been successfully piloted in parts of Assam.
  • Providing adequate number of boats — the most important, yet scarce resource in the villages — will enhance access to developmental activities during floods and also facilitate safe commute for schoolchildren.
  • Usual toilets are of limited use in flood-prone areas. Elevated toilets, ecosanitation units — promoted in the flood-prone areas of North Bihar — and elevated dugwells or tubewells with iron filter need to be installed in the Northeast.
  • If elevated toilets are promoted on a large-scale, they will reduce the public health challenges in the flood-prone areas.

Other measures:

  • Strategic environment assessment of development activities, a practice followed in several countries needs to be undertaken in flood prone areas like the Brahmaputra basin.
  • Strengthening planning authorities like the Brahmaputra Board and flood control departments by staffing them with scientists from a wide range of disciplines is essential.
  • Focus should shift from relief measures to building resilience in flood-prone areas.
  • A community involvement and awareness generation is necessary for sustainable disaster risk reduction.
  • Scientific fish farming on the water bodies and the inundated land can ensure that inundation, when it cannot be avoided, is put to optimal use
  • A wholestic and proactive approach is necessary in order to mitigate natural disasters like floods.
  • Development of GIS (Geographical Information System) based National Database for disaster management. GIS is an effective tool for emergency responders to access information in terms of crucial parameters for the disaster affected areas.
  • In any disaster management system the warning system plays a very crucial role along with technology
  • natural water bodies soak up excess rainfall and use it to replenish groundwater
  • inter-related drainage systems created by these ponds, streams, lakes and channels then release the excess water into larger water bodies — oceans and big rivers.

What are the Flood management mechanisms in India?

  • The flood management mechanism that exits in India at the moment is operational at two levels –central level and state level.
  • The state level mechanism is made up of the water resource department, the flood control board, and the State Technical Advisory Committee.
  • The central level mechanism is made up of bodies such as the Central Water Commission (CWC), the National Disaster Management Authority, and the Brahmaputra Board

What are the government steps?

  • In order to respond effectively to floods, Ministry of Home Affairs has initiated National Disaster Risk Management Programme in all the flood-prone States.
  • Under this programe ,Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, and Uttar Pradesh are among the multi-hazard prone states where the disaster management programme
  • After a disastrous impact of tsunami in 2004, India realized the need for Disaster Management Response Team and enacted the Disaster Management Act, 2005. It establishes National Disaster Management Authority, an umbrella system under which State Disaster Management Authorities function in coordination with other government departments like Police, Fire, Finance, Transport, Telecommunications, and Roads & Buildings etc.
  • The government inaugurated the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Management
  • Over the years, the Indian government has taken the following initiatives in order to deal with floods:
  • Policy Statement 1954
  • National Flood Commission (Rashtriya Barh Ayog) 1980
  • High level committee on floods 1957
  • Expert committee to review the implementation of the recommendations of national flood commission 2003(R Rangachari committee)
  • Policy statement of 1958
  • National Water policy

Recent steps taken by government in order to tackle natural disaster problems like floods:

  • During the recent visit to Assam, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Rs 2,000 crore package for relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation in the flood-affected states in the Northeast
  • A corpus fund of Rs 100 crore will be used to set up a high-powered committee that will work on finding permanent solutions to the flood problems.
  • The high-powered committee, whenever it is constituted, will make this paradigm shift.
  • This would require a shift in the understanding of floods from being an extreme weather event, to a hazard that is partly natural and partly anthropogenic.


Disaster risk reduction has a pivotal role in supporting adaption to climate change as well as sustainable development. Therefore, flood-prone regions of the country require a focused approach from both the Centre and state governments.

Print Friendly and PDF