The Recurring Floods in Bihar: Tragic and Traumatic
Almost every year, amidst the heated and fuelled political debates aired on the news dissemination sources, the constant grim reality of Bihar features in the headlines. This constant grim reality encompasses the recurring floods in the most flood-prone state. Bihar has strategically located plains near the foot of the Himalayas. These plains become a source of catchment areas wherein rivers like Kosi, Gandak, and Bagmati, etc., are drained with heavy discharge. The Water Resources Department of Bihar reports that 76% of the population in Northern Bihar are under the threat of facing the consequences of recurring floods. Over the years the total affected area has increased. Despite perennial warnings via economical damages at all the stages and loss of lives that becomes a source of distraught and attention-demanding questions, a significant number of residents of Bihar perish on every instance of the occurrence of floods.
Apart from Bihar coming under the catchment area, a crucial reason for increased recurring floods has been converting forest lands into agricultural and pastoral lands in the middle hills of Nepal. People are also expanding their settlements in the flood plains with a presumption that the volume of the river has increased to a significant level.
Even though the state government of Bihar is committed to mitigating the problems induced by floods via processes like building the embankments, it has made the state more vulnerable to floods as the embankments have caused the river to change its natural course. This has inflated the flood-prone region from 2.5 million hectares to 6.89 million hectares by 2004. Floods in Bihar form a significant economic concern with losses observed in the agricultural outputs along with inputs, degradation in the quality of inputs, ceased employment opportunities, and failure in crop production which ultimately causes a potential debt trap and poverty among many others. The concerns extend towards poor education and healthcare facilities along with negative effects on demographic trends as well. At these moments, civilization is reminded of humans being the cause of their misery.
On the lines of the conventions set by the United Nations Development Programme in Human Development Reports, Bihar’s dimension of income comes out to be 0.27 against India’s dimension of income as 0.62. Floods, although not alone, aggravate severe damage on the income as floods bring wrath via structural damages like property damages, damages to land, and inventory damages. It also causes a substantial loss of flora and fauna which includes cattle and plantations that serve as a means of living for the people in Bihar, a state dominated by the agricultural sector. With the constant damages, the victims of the fury of the floods are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. Poverty flares poverty and limits opportunities. In the 2020 floods of Bihar, 38,47,531 people were affected and 25,116 people had to take aid from the facilities of shelter homes. With houses in the ruins, people have to take refuge in safe places temporarily and it becomes a source of economic distress and little to no means to sustain themselves away from their homes.
Since 1947, floods in Bihar have affected 2.24 million hectares of agricultural land and have inflicted losses worth rupees 768.38 crores between the years 1953 and 2017. In the year 2020 alone, floods inflicted damage to 7.54 lakh hectares of agricultural land. With heavy rainfalls and damaged crops, the rural population is also deprived of availing of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). In 2020, while interviewing Shambhu Baba from Chotka Sakhe of Gopalganj, husband of the Sarpanch of the village who helped his wife manage the affairs of the village, it was revealed that MGNREGA couldn’t be availed during heavy monsoons and flooding. All of their crops were damaged amidst the lockdown implemented by the government due to the first wave of Covid-19. Also, with the effects of economic losses, the people who were without the identity of being below the poverty line ( identification includes proofs like the BPL card) couldn’t attain subsidized or free ration.
As per Niti Aayog’s SDG India Index Baseline report, Bihar has the highest population of people below the poverty line with 33.74 percent population below the poverty line.
The frequent occurrence of floodings induces the victims to save more to sustain themselves in extreme emergencies and crises. Floods have become a costly affair for the survivors in the long term as well. Sentiments of savings induce the demand to fall. The falling of demand pulls employment opportunities back, leaving the residents, who are also the survivors, to work in meager conditions. These crises also take away the lives of the labourers in these regions causing a fall in the labour supply, which induces a fall in the supply of goods and services. With these in effect, the economy of the region spirals down. With the ongoing pandemic in effect, spiraling down has been fuelled. It is a feeling of aghast to learn about the destitute along with poor economic conditions in Bihar.
Following the conventions set by the United Nations Development Programme in Human Development Reports, the dimension index of health in Bihar is 0.75 as compared to India’s 0.76. Although the difference isn’t great, floods make Bihar prone to outbreaks of various water-borne and communicable diseases. In the worst floods seen by the state in 2008, people were suffering from diarrhea and many other diseases due to stagnant water. Many suffered from gastrointestinal illnesses, water wound infections, dermatitis, and possible serious waterborne diseases. Although fatalities due to floods have been minimalistic in recent years, deaths in hundreds were reported due to the floods which became an annual routine before 2018. Women and children are the most prone to flood-inflicted casualties. Shambhu Kaka also reported that they couldn’t avail help from a healthcare facility near their locality due to poor connectivity to traverse to the location. This inaccessibility is not limited to Chotka Sakhe in Bihar. Poor management of floods and the vulnerability leave the victims of these floods with meager healthcare facilities. Floods also impact the mental health of the flood survivors. The prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder has been observed. It has been found significant in the old-aged population who have been victims of frequent floodings.
Floods also hamper education. The dimension index of education in Bihar is 0.32 against India’s 0.55. Floods cause the shutting down of the schools in the affected areas due to various reasons, including the lack of accessibility and infrastructural damage. The lack of means of attaining education flares the risk of future generations being trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty and the limitation of the application of the skills to the agricultural sector. Floods bind the fate of the victims into lower strata of employment opportunities to sustain themselves.
The frequent occurrence of floods has been one of the prime reasons for aggravated poverty in Bihar. These occurrences have hampered the quality of life of the residents. It has become socioeconomically a costly affair for the government as well as the people.
Trisha Jha is a final year undergraduate economics student at O.P. Jindal Global University. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author/s. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Policy Observer or our members.)
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