Water is vital to life. No animal or plant life can exist without it. The land will not yield without supply of adequate water. Yet the same water causes a havoc and becomes a terror in the form of floods when die rivers overflow their banks due to excessive rains in their catchment areas. In India almost every year floods are common in one part of the country or the other. During rainy season our rivers are swollen and cause disastrous floods which cause heavy destruction to life and property. The swollen rivers inundate fields, destroy crops, house, villages etc. causing loss of human life, cattle population and destruction of property. The water washes away everything that comes in its way. The river corrode their usual banks resulting in widespread damage to the surrounding areas. The rivers often change their course submerging large areas of land under water.
Floods cause extensive damage. Apart from destroying crops, cattle, houses and all other things coming in its way, floods take away with it the upper fertile crust of land. Many villages are submerged by the flood waters and low lying areas turn into huge lakes. The marooned people have to be evacuated to higher and safer places. Those who can not be transported, have to be supplied with flood etc. through air dropping. Northern and North Eastern parts of country suffer most due to recurrent floods. Kosi and Gandak in Bihar, Ganga, Jamuna and Gomti in Uttar Pradesh and Brahmaputra in Assam bring curse to people residing by their sides almost every year. The rivers in Southern India are not so prone to floods.
Floods do not cause immediate damage only, but leave behind many problems for the health and civic authorities. The flood waters take a long time to recede. Even after months, large areas submerged in water appear to be big lakes. Water could either be pumped out or allowed to evaporate in sun. This causes a health hazard. Law and order problems also come up. Malaria, cholera and other diseases sometime come up as epidemics in flood affected areas. They take a heavy toll of life even after flood waters have receded. Water logging in vast areas is another problem faced during and after floods.
One of the main reasons for recurrent floods in northern and eastern India is heavy rainfall during monsoon seasons for a couple of months. Due to excessive rains around, the rivers and their tributaries overflow. More-and-more water from their catchment areas drain into rivers, resulting in floods. Melting of snow in the Himalayas during summer also causes increased discharge of water in several rivers, flooding the adjoining areas which suffer immense loss. Silting the river beds over a period of tune, reduces their water flowing capacity, as it constantly reduces its depth. It also results in floods. Sometimes there are huge land slides in the hills and large amount of rocks and other debris fall into river resulting in wide floods. These may be termed as natural causes of floods which are beyond control.
During last 50 years or so, vast forest areas of the Himalayas have been cleared by people. The trees have been cut in large numbers. Indiscriminate felling of trees over a period of time has left the mountains barren. When it rains in the high mountains, all water now goes straight to rivers resulting in floods. There is larger melting of snow as well in such areas. In forests, the soil is soft due to trees and their roots. A large amount of water percolates below the surface and becomes available to man as subsoil water. Now, in the absence of trees, this water also passes into rivers resulting in greater damage due to floods and less availability of ground water in future months. This is a man made reasons of floods.
India has to suffer heavy losses due to floods every year. This is a poor country which can ill-afford such tremendous losses. It has been assessed mat almost 40 million hectares of land is flood prone. Floods in such vast areas cause huge destruction and irreparable loss to our economy. A large sum has to be spent on relief and rescue work every year. In a normal year nearly two million houses are damaged due to floods and about 6.5 million acres of crop is submerged; more than 20 lakh cattle heads and a large number of people perish. Most of the damage is caused in the rural areas, though cities are not always spared. Lakhs of people have to witness helplessly the tragedy of having their crops, cattle and homes ruined by surging waters.
The principal remedy of recurrent floods is massive afforestation and soil conservation programme throughout the country. A programme to reforest the Himalayas will be a beginning in this direction. The second remedy to curb floods is to trap some of the early monsoon water underground in artesian basins which could be used during dry season. Multi-purpose projects could be taken up, which would not only control floods, but would also augment power supply.
Floods are causing damage for last several centuries. After independence, a national programme for effective flood control measure was launched in 1954. As short-term measures, in the Second Five Year Plan, a provision was made for the construction of embankments, improvement of channels, raising the village level, protection of town and cities etc. In the subsequent plans, as a long-term measure, construction of storage reservoirs, consolidation of benefits arising out of executed work and additional works of embankments, river training work etc. have been taken up. During the Sixth Plan, a sum of Rs. 1045 crores was provided for flood relief work. In the Seventh Plan, a sum of Rs. 947.39 crores was provided for flood control measures.