The need for a sound flood management policy and not another dam

Article Courtesy : Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO)

Author : Ranjan Panda

These large structural engineering solutions not only are obsolete but undermine the importance of ‘integrated flood management’. Time we grow up and design ways to live with floods again.

We just came across media reports saying that the Secretary of Water Resources, Govt. of Odisha has informed about plans to commission feasibility studies for another large dam/barrage over the river Mahanadi, to control floods in the delta areas. We urge upon the department to refrain from such a disastrous plan. We have already seen how large dams like Hirakud have miserably failed in controlling floods.  The recent Mega Floods in the state is the latest glaring example of this. In fact, post Hirakud dam, we have increased the flood affected areas from just the coastal districts to almost all the districts of the basin

Large centralized structures such as this not only displace large number of people but also prove damaging to biodiversity.  They kill the river’s flow for the entire year to be able to control flood waters for a few days!  This is how we are going to make the disaster permanent!! This is unacceptable.  What we need is decentralized integrated flood management systems through proper river basin planning.  These large dams are aimed at controlling floods and that’s a myth! The river basin planning must incorporate the basin in totality for forest management; rain water harvesting and management; and flood plain management with integration of climate change models and scientific technologies plus people’s knowledge.
Further, feasibility study for one single dam to control floods in the delta areas is an obsolete and absurd idea. We at Water Initiatives Odisha have been demanding for ‘cumulative assessment of riverine ecosystems’ as a whole and then only think about any intervention.  Such cumulative assessment must include assessment of the river; its ecology; its flow; pollution load; impact of climate change on the river and the riparian communities as well as biodiversity.  The Mahanadi delta area is a heavily congested area with lot of encroachment and anti-river developments taking place.  Just by constructing one dam the flood cannot be controlled.  Consider the fact that Mahanadi’s delta is only 9063 sq km, which is only about 10 per cent of the total deltaic plains that suffers from floods each year.  Management of flood should be done taking into consideration all rivers and the issues we have raised in the previous paragraph.  You need to decongest the delta areas and give space to the flood water to move fast and recede.
Taking into consideration the above issues, we once again urge upon the government to stop thinking about any large dam/barrage that are disastrous; and to go in for a sound Flood Management Policy, discussion for which must start with immediate effect taking all sections of the society on board.
Time we learn from our forefathers who lived with floods!

For further information, please contact:
Ranjan Panda
Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha

Mobile: 9437050103