Monday, October 17, 2011

Drought Update II of 2011 from WIO - 18th Oct 2011

Drought Update II from Water Initiatives Odisha
18th October 2011
Dearr co-sailors,

On 27th August we sent out the First Drought Update for 2011 to you.  In the meanwhile we got attacked by one of the most devastating floods of recent decades.  Now that we are at the final stage of preparations for the first of its kind State Level Consultation on Flood Management scheduled for 23of of this month, we are shocked by more farmer deaths in the state due to drought conditions.

In fact, this has been the condition of our state and each year we experience floods and droughts together.  While flood keeps us engaged during a particular period of time drought has been a silent and persistent killer.  From this year on, we are trying to intensify our efforts to see that the debate and action over disasters in the state don’t die down.  We really need a better strategy to cope with disasters and manage those to reduce the devastations.  About a decade ago, we at WIO had termed Odisha as “Disasters own Country”. By now disasters have intensified further and in the coming years, the way we are managing them and the way climatic conditions are going to change, the situation is going to be worse. It’s time we join hands and act fast!!  This Update is just another effort towards that.

Just in case you want to know it again, fifteen years ago, Water Initiatives Odisha(WIO) had started the habit of compiling Drought and Flood Updates for the state of Odisha and we used to share these among people, policy makers, media, academicians and other concerned.  That time we did it through print papers and distributed photocopied updates.  After continuing the effort for a few years, we could not keep up with the pace of the droughts, floods and disasters and stopped the effort a decade back.  However, we kept on sending occasional updates from time to time via the internet and also through our print publications.  Our friends and well-wishers have been asking us to start it again and we have too realised that the need for regular updates has become more vital than ever before with drought and disasters assuming new and gigantic proportions under new conditions of rapid industrialization and climate change.  We are thus resuming the effort.

The format would however be the same: a simple compilation of news and views on drought and related issues sourced from newspapers, research reports, field studies and all other sources we can have access to.  We keep it simple also to reach out to maximum number of people possible. 

At the moment, it’s occasional and we may come up with these updates as and when we can, given our limited manpower and resources.  However, with your inputs and support, we are sure; we shall be able to ensure regular flow of this update. 

We request you to send in your reports of activities, your views; and any other interesting and relevant article, books, photographs, and anything that you feel we should cover in this Update.  It’s YOU who is the most important FUEL of this effort.

Look forward to listen from you and your continued support.
Thanks and regards,

Ranjan Panda
Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha

Another farmer commits suicide!

Lalit Neti, a 35 years old farmer from Bhimjor village of the Kolabira Block in Jharsuguda district allegedly committeed suicide by consuming pesticide on Monday, 17th October.  It is reported that Lalit, a marginal farmer who owned two acres of land had availed a loan of 16000 rupees from Samasingh Co-operative Society for taking up his kharif farming operations.  However, crop loss led him to take this extreme step. 

After Floods, Dry Spell Worries Farmers

The farmers of southern and coastal districts are at nature’s mercy again.  A prolonged dry spell after the September 23 floods has left the community worried over the standing crop prospects.

The heat during the last three weeks is unusually high and paddy fields have gone dry.

Long duration paddy crops are in the panicle stage and badly need water for heading and flowering.  If there will be no rain during the next few days, there will be heavy production loss, said an agriculture expert.

Early and medium varieties of paddy crops are in the dough stage and ready for harvest.  However, constant water in the paddy field is required for long duration crops from panicle to dough stage.

There is no problem for paddy crops in areas under assured irrigation.  Reports from the field level said crop condition is getting worse in the southern district of Ganjam.  Farmers of the coastal districts are equally concerned for their crops.

The system developed in the east central Bay of Bengal had raised the hope of rain in the coastal belts of the State.  As the system has started moving towards south-west bay, it has dashed the hopes any rain in the State.

Evena s 16 districts were affected by drought and 21 districts were affected by the two spell of floods in September, the Agriculture Department was confident of a good kharif harvest.  The prolonged dry spell had dimmed the hope.

Meanwhile, the Government had asked the Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation (OLIC) to operationalize atleast 1000 defunct LI points before December.

The corporation needs to operationalize as many defunct LI points on war-footing measures to ensure that the standing crops are saved.  Paddy crops on more than 3.5 lakh hectares were damaged by the recent floods.

Source: Indian Express, 18th October 2011

Crop loss grips farmers in Ganjam

Drought-like situation prevails in the district due to low rainfall

Farmers in Ganjam are facing possible crop loss due to drought-like situation caused by low and erratic rainfall this year. This is in sharp contrast to other areas of the State where heavy rainfall has caused extensive loss due to floods. Most of the canals in the district are unable to provide sufficient water to farmers for cultivation. In a recent report the officials of the Agriculture Department have pointed out that all the 22 blocks of this district are affected by low rainfall.

Non-provision of proper amount of water has started to irk peasants. In some areas such as Huma and Burupada, farmers have demonstrated at local offices of the Irrigation Department. Former deputy speaker of State Assembly Ram Chandra Panda says unless government comes out with some remedial measures for farmers, it may lead to law and order situation in some areas.

He says it was high time to distribute whatever water is available through irrigation systems.

Paddy cultivation has been worst affected due to low rainfall. According to the Agriculture Department data, this year low rainfall in the beginning of kharif season affected paddy cultivation in four blocks of the district. But paddy cultivation in other blocks also got affected as proper rainfall did not occur in subsequent months. It is estimated that no cultivation could be taken up in around 13,000 hectares of agricultural land in the district.

Minister's visit

During his recent visit to the district, State Revenue Minister Surya Narayan Patra also admitted the agricultural loss due to low rainfall and drought-like situation in the district. This year, the crop loss assessment will be made by taking panchyats as units rather than blocks so that more peasants who are likely to suffer crop loss could be benefited, he says, adding that efforts are on to save existing paddy crop in Ganjam through lift irrigation system. Ten thousand lift irrigation points will be repaired and renovated on a war-footing.

Source: The Hindu, 17th October 2011 

Met Speaks

Withdrawal of Monsoon

The withdrawal started from west Rajasthan on 23rd September with a delay of more than 3 weeks as the normal date of withdrawal from extreme western parts of Rajasthan is 1st September. Subsequently, it withdrew from most parts of northwest India and some parts of west Uttar Pradesh on 26th September and from most parts of Uttar Pradesh, some parts of Madhya Pradesh and some more parts of Gujarat state on 28th September. On 30th Sept. it further withdrew from some more parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. As on 4th October, The withdrawal line of monsoon continues to pass through Lat. 27.0°N / Long. 84.0°E, Balia, Umaria, Jabalpur, Indore, Baroda, Veraval, Lat. 21.0°N / Long. 65.0°E and Lat. 21.0°N / Long. 60.0°E.

The cumulative season rainfall from 1st June to 30th September 2011 was excess in 7 meteorological subdivisions (21% of the total area of the country), normal in 26 meteorological subdivisions (71% of the total area of the country) and deficient in 3 meteorological subdivisions (8% the total area of the country). The sub-divisional cumulative season rainfall distribution is shown in Fig.4. Three subdivisions (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam & Meghalaya, and NMMT) from the eastern part of the country recorded deficient rainfall.  The monthly rainfall over the country as a whole during the season is given below:

June: 12% above LPA         July: 15% below LPA.      August: 10% above LPA     September: 6% above LPA.

Source: IMD

Water Initiatives Odisha: Fighting water woes, combating climate change... more than two decades now!

R-3/A-4, J. M. Colony, Budharaja
Sambalpur 768 004, Odisha, INDIA
Mobile: +919437050103
You can also mail me at:
Skype: ranjan.climatecrusader

Please join our group 'Save Rivers Save Civilizations' at

Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) is a state level coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two decades now.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

WIO Special Note III on Odisha Floods 2011

Special Note III on ‘Odisha Floods 2011’
Water Initiatives Odisha[1]

How Hirakud floods are man-made?

Let me narrate the story of a woodcutter who was cutting the branch of a tree with an axe from morning to evening for several days.  One day, a person passers-by asked the woodcutter to show the axe.  The axe was blunt.  He advised the woodcutter to get the axe sharpened.  The woodcutter said, “I understand this.  But my master says, if I go for sharpening the axe, who will do this work?”  The situation is something like this in the field.  People are busy in work and have no time to learn and give heed to this.  They are working with out-dated knowledge.  For this workshop, the master mind has played a role and hence we are meeting today.

-          This was said by the then Engineer-in-Chief, Water Resources, Govt. of Orissa in September 2005

Dams are monsters.  Even though these have been lifeline for the people of the civilization, from point of view of potential hazard, it is a monster, if not monitored for its proper health and ther is an outburst, the entire Geography and History of area will be changed. 

-          Said by Minister of State, Water Resources, during the above workshop in 2005.

In fact, once dams are built, the safety and security of the people at the lower levels, during floods, becomes heavily dependent on the efficient management of the dam.  As the Minister rightly pointed out, “Sometimes release from the dam makes their life miserable.  Hence, the dam authorities are to operate the gates of the dam efficiently, in such a way that the life and property of the downstream people are safe.”  Has the Hirakud dam been properly managed?  We don’t think so.  The latest spell of floods this September last shows how.  

The September Floods

On 9th September, as 10, 51,123 cusecs of water was entering into the 746 sq km reservoir, Asia’s longest earthen dam looked so small and helpless.  The authorities, who virtually waited the water to come to this unmanageable proportion, were forced to open 59 gates - 49 out of those opened in a span of 48 hours – only to be able to release 9,74,887 cusecs of water.  At such a peak, when the dam’s safety comes to a stake and there is no other way available with the authorities than to release the water which then goes on to devastate millions of people downstream.   We immediately questioned this faulty way of managing the dam’s flood control operations as the reservoir level was continuous kept at a very high level.  Please see the box “Up, up and up” for an analysis of daily flood operations of the dam between 2nd to 10th September.  However, as a regular practice, the authorities denied these charges.  In September 2008, almost the same thing happened and we had raised the issue then too.  The authorities then said they are looking into the matter and that an expert committee will be formed to check such devastations in future.  Three years on, we are doing the same exercise.  The casual and stereotype approach of managing the dam continued, as a result of which a flood that could have been moderated was let loose to devastate about 3.5 million people 19 districts.  At least 41 people were killed and 10 were reported missing when the Govt.’s final update on Mahanadi floods came on 21st September.  In the meanwhile, we hear from the department of water resources that a committee was set up in 2009 and that its suggestions were incorporated during operation of the reservoir during this flood.  However, in reality, we did not find any change in the modus operandi than what we saw in 2008. 

Up, up and up

On 2nd September, when the inflow forecast for 24 hours was 173042 cusecs, 10 gates of the HIrakud dam were open.  This increased to 22 gates by 4th as rainfall was excessive at upstream nearby places Burla at 153.4 MM and Hirakud at 130.4 MM.  The rainfall at Seorinarayan (Chhatisgarh) discharge station in the upstream that day was 13 MM that was to take about 14 hours to reach the reservoir.  Further it was 20 MM at Nandaghat, 48.0 MM at Champa, 28.1 MM at Tarapur, 13.0 MM at Ghorari, 77.6 MM at Saradihi and 27.0 MM at Deogaon; all upstream stations.  So, within one hour (at Burla and Hirakud) to about 30 hours (at the farthest discharge station), all this water was to come to the reservoir.  That day itself the inflow was 380741 cusecs but the outflow was maintained at the same level, leaving the reservoir at a very high level of 624.97 ft. 

The next 24 hours’ inflow forecast was 395525 cusecs but the dam gates were further closed and on 6th September only 12 gates were open.  So, while the inflow was 314880 cusecs, the outflow was drastically low at 233746 cusecs.  On that day, even though the rainfall at nearby upstream stations reduced by almost half, it was not too less.  However the rainfall at most of the far off stations had increased voluminously.  This means the reservoir was to continue receiving higher inflow, which was going to gradually increase.  But the reservoir was kept at a higher level of 624.87 ft. 

Very obviously the next day i.e. on 7th September, the inflow into the reservoir increased to a huge volume of 618340 cusecs, almost double of the previous day.  The authorities then started to realise the blunder and opened 24 gates.  Going by records, each gate takes an hour to open.  So, in 12 hours they could open only 12 gates.  This resulted in a high inflow but low discharge at 418220 cusecs and the reservoir level could not be lowered.  It was at 626.23 ft.  At such water levels safety of the dam comes into stake and the authorities have no option than to release more water.  So, by then even though the rainfall had increased in almost all upstream stations with slight decrease in the nearby ones, and even though the projected inflow on the next 24 hours was almost 635665 cusecs, and the desperate effort to start opening the gates had begun, they could only open 42 gates by which they could discharge only 711542 of the 997428 cusecs that was inflowing.  And the reservoir level had to rise to 627.02 ft.  What is important to note hereis that out of the projected upstream rainfall, the reservoir received almost 30% extra.  This definitely created the extra unprecedented impact but the plight was not going to be much less even if the dam received only the projected inflow.  The damage down streams was already done by then and despite all efforts the authorities could not moderate the flood. 

The next day, i.e. 9th September, when the reservoir received a whopping 1051123 cusecs of inflow – just a little less than the projected volume, the authority was but forced to open 59 gates only to be able to 974887 cusecs of water.  The reservoir level thus rose to 628.50 ft, virtually leaving no further scope for the authorities than to let the flood loose and do as much devastation it wanted to.  This resulted in the increase of the reservoir level to 629.25 on the 10th. 

Govt. records say that the maximum discharge ability of the Hirakud dam is 15 lakh cusecs.  Imagine, if at 10.5 lakh cusecs of discharge the dam wrecked this devastation, what would happen at that level.  The dam itself may not survive then.  This shows how the Hirakud dam is virtually a failure in flood control. 
The point that we want to bring home is, the dam authorities lost the opportunity of moderating the flood by keeping the reservoir at very high starting from 1st August and then kept on increasing it gradually.  This is contrary to what their own documents and reports have been advising them.

Shying away from the hard reality of failure to manage the floods, the authorities first blamed Chhatisgarh rains for the flood; then other factors and finally – while responding to the Governor’s call for establishment of a high level independent committee to inquire into the alleged mismanagement – blamed Chhatisgarh waters again, even as only about 15 per cent (1,77,000 cusecs) of the total inflow on peak flood inflow time came from Chhatisgarh rivers (as informed by the Chief Engineer).  The fact that there is no proper mechanism to monitor flows from rivers from inside the state; and that there is a severe lack of coordination between Odisha and Chhatisgarh in managing the flood flow – that we had raised - were never admitted.  At that time, as was informed by the Chief Engineer of the dam, Ib and Bheden rivers were contributing 1,00,000 cusecs each.  Actually, flood management of the Hirakud dam has always been a controversial issue.  Each time there is a flood the authorities try all ways to cover up the failure of the dam in managing the same. 

This time too, despite clear cut evidence that the dam was kept at a very higher level from the minimum recommended level, they kept saying that they did not violate the designed Rule Curve.  This is what the Secretary of Water Resources has repeated in recent media statements informing that they have reported to the Governor about this.  Buying his argument would mean the management of the dam was perfectly done according to the Rule Curve.  But that also means, the dam has failed miserably.  Would he or his department agree to this?  They won’t admit that managing flood control operations with the help of an old and obsolete Rule Curve itself is faulty and gives rise to mismanagement of the dam increasing the risks of floods and devastations.  The current floods are the worst in recent decades. It would be interesting to see what govt. reports and representatives have said about the dam; its flood control ability and the Rule Curve. 


Strangely, there is no storage earmarked for flood control:

The only existing reservoir scheme for flood control measures across Mahanadi is the Hirakud dam. This is a multipurpose project where irrigation and power generation are other important benefits in addition to flood control benefit. But strangely, there is no storage earmarked for flood control. The FRL and MWL are kept same (630 ft RL). The flood storage is obtained through the operation schedule (rule curve). The operation schedule approved by the Central Water Commission never allows the reservoir to be sufficiently at lower level to absorb the inflow from the U/s catchment of 83,400 sq km, especially if the flood hits late in monsoon. The live storage is rather small for such a large catchment. The safety of the dam is always endangered when the inflow approaches the PMF value. 
(State Water Plan 2004)

The projects which were constructed prior to 1968, the spillway design flood was determined basing on the empirical formulae, envelop curves or frequency analysis.  Let us discuss about Hirakud.  During 1947, the magnitude of maximum flood discharge at head of delta i.e. Naraj was estimate as 15.7 lakh cusec based on long term gauge observation at site.  This flood was reduced in proportion to 3/4th of power of catchment area to obtain a value of 11.5 lakh cusec at dam site.  Later on, International Engineering Co. evaluated the design flood from study of flood in Godavari basin and with their knowledge from other major river basins of the world as 18.3 cusecs.

But in 1952, a 500 year return period flood was calculated as 15 lakh cusec which was adopted as spillway design capacity.  Since the spillway of the same order as the peak inflow design flood (i.e. 15 lakh cusecs) has been provided at FRL, it seems that no routing has been done for this flood.

In 1974, the PMF was estimated as 28.74 lakhs by a team of experts constituted by Govt. of India for formulating rules for flood conservation and flood control below Hirakud. 

In 1982, CWC finally communicated PMF as 14.59 lakh cusec (which is higher by almost 10 lakh cusec).  This necessitated provision of additional spillway to accommodate flood of such high this magnitude. 

As there may be serious problem in providing auxiliary spillway for pasing this flood from techno-economic consideration, it was therefore thought of to regulate the flood by advance release from the reservoir by use of flood forecasting and flood warning system.

Safety of the dam is primary concern and it overrides all other consideration during operation.  The operation should be in such a manner that it balances in best possible way the two conflicting uses i.e. flood conservation for generating additional power and flood control. 

(Er. G. C. Sahoo, Former Engineer-in-Chief)

No lessons learnt

In fact, several other documents of the govt. itself have been pointing out that a lower reservoir level before onset of monsoon is the most effective way to moderate high floods.  However, the reservoir level was kept at a very high level, leaving little scope for the flood waters to pass without creating much damage.  First of all, going by the realisation of its own Water Plan, the water resources department should have lowered the FRL by several feet as an earmarked flood water space.  Instead of doing that it kept on increasing the reservoir level and kept it almost near to full even much before the currently practiced obsolete Rule Curve suggested.  This definitely gives one the impression that this was done with sheer assumption and not through any scientific forecasting methods.  And this fuels to apprehensions by several quarters that the reservoir was deliberately kept at higher level to satisfy the new priorities of the dam i.e. to provide water to burgeoning industries around the reservoir. 

As such also, as evident from all the above discussions, the dam has miserably failed in its primary objective due to its multi-purpose nature.  Further, considering that the dam’s water retention capacity is already reduced by about one third; and its initial design is already a faulty one that cannot properly balance between its multipurpose functionalities, the govt. in first case, should never have allowed industries to draw water from this reservoir.  Without making any review of the fallacies in the design and the functionality of the dam, the govt. kept on adding new priorities. Further, the Rule Curve of 1988 was supposed to be reviewed and changed in 1998 and then in 2008, was kept in force and no serious improvement has been brought in the flood forecasting, telemetry analysis and inter-state coordination aspects of the dam’s management. 

The State Water Plan admits that manual collection of information involves human error and consumes time; data transmission mechanism is unreliable and more so at the time of cyclone and flood; the existing data communication mechanism is time consuming; considering a single UG for a big catchment unit area up to 60,000 sq km involves error; process of estimation of effective rainfall error; and that there is enough scope for development in the existing flood forecasting mechanism. 
Emphasising on the need for proper flood forecasting, researchers of IIT, Roorkee mentioned that “Out of 19 floods 14 are due to intercepted catchment downstream of Hirakud.  As far as structural measures are considered second flood moderation structure is a rare possibility.  The existing flood forecasting system requires a lot of improvement.  The present weariness is the frequency and magnitude of the flood. The present decade has seen so far 4 floods 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008.  The delta of Mahanadi is encroached day by day, due to growth of activities. This delta is highly fertile and thickly populated (400-450 persons /” For more information on what experts have spoken about Hirakud dam and the issues we have raised, please see the box “Experts Speak” at the end of this paper.
Responding to the call of the Governor of Odisha for formation of an independent enquiry committee to probe the alleged mismanagement of Hirakud dam during flood control operations, the Secretary, Water Resources of the state has said that a committee is already formed in 2009 and that the recommendations of the committee were taken into consideration during this year’s flood management.  However, we at Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) don’t buy this.  We had urged upon the govt. of Odisha to release a white paper on flood operations of the dam in 2008; then in 2009 on the unnatural reduction of power generation and now, this year, we realize that no change has taken place in the way the flood waters were managed by the dam.  So, the flood devastation is clearly man made. 

Time to act

We urge upon the govt. to:
  1. Release a white paper, through constitution of an independent inquiry committee, on the flood management by the dam with day wise details from August 1st to September to 30th providing information on what all factors were considered – with all details there in – to keep the reservoir at a particular level on a particular date.  This should include the flood forecasting upstream and downstream; inflow and outflow at different stations and travelling time of flood waters between stations; flood warnings issued; so on and so forth.
  2. Revise the Rule Curve with immediate effect considering the past experiences of floods, climate change and related factors.
  3. Release a status paper on the life, threats and priorities of the Hirakud Dam.
  4. Upgrade and modernise the flood and weather forecasting as well as warning mechanisms in place.
  5. Start dialoguing with the people of the river basin and devise a Flood Management Policy that talks about river basin management through forest and run-off water conservation; flood plain zoning and management; clearing congestion at the deltaic plains; initiates an interstate mechanism with Chhattisgarh to manage the Mahanadi and its ecology.
  6. Refrain from any further big dam and barrages across the river.  Instead, go for small water harvesting and irrigation structures that will not only control flood in a decentralized manner but also recharge the basin as a whole. 
  7. Review the water allocation to industries from the Hirakud reservoir and upstream rivers and stop giving away any further water to industries from there.

Experts Speak
Almost five decades down the line, the official rhetoric of controlling the Mahanadi has been replaced with a concern for saving the dam itself. In July, hundreds of villages in the Mahanadi Delta were flooded by a surge of water caused when authorities opened 51 of the dam’s 64 gates in July.
Engineers feared that the rapidly rising reservoir could overtop the dam, causing an even greater disaster. In the words of Orissa’s chief secretary, D. P. Bagchi, “the dam’s safety was of prime importance.” The Hirakud Dam is holding back flood waters as designed, but only to release them in lethal torrents.

To explain this irony as a story of excessive rain would wrongly perpetuate the myth that flood control through embankments and reservoirs is a viable and unavoidable response to bank-bursting rivers. The Orissa Delta, much like other deltas in eastern India, has, over the past 150 years, been transformed from a flood-dependent ecology to a flood vulnerable landscape. This has occurred through a range of technological interventions driven chiefly by political considerations.

In Orissa, a prescient flood committee of 1928 noted that floods were inevitable in a deltaic country and it was “useless” to attempt to thwart the “workings of nature” through flood control measures. This committee argued that in Orissa the problem was not how to prevent floods but how to pass them as quickly as possible to the sea and therefore the solution lay in “removing all obstacles” from the path of the flood. The report of the 1928 committee, however, was buried by the politics of the period which instead facilitated the construction of the Hirakud Dam.

More recently, the World Bank studied 25 large dams in India and singled out two that were particularly unable to cope with high flood flows, one of which was Hirakud. The investigators wrote of these two dams that “the consequences of dam failure during a major flood would have to be described with some adjective beyond disastrous.”

-          Excerpts from Politics, not Nature made Orissa floods calamitous Rohan D’Souza, in The Telegraph – July 25, 2001 on the July 2001 Floods

India’s Hirakud Dam was first justified in the name of flood control, yet extreme floods in the Mahanadi Delta between 1960 and 1980 were three times more frequent than before Hirakud was built. In September 1980, hundreds of people were killed after releases from Hirakud breached downstream embankments. Orissa’s Chief Minister admitted that panic releases of water from Hirakud were responsible for much of the devastation but argued that if the water had not been discharged as quickly as possible, the dam could have failed.

-          Patrick McCully, in an undated paper

The wrong operation of Hirakud Dam is majorly responsible for the current flood disaster in Mahanadi basin in Orissa. Ever since Aug 1, 2008, when the rule curve for current year came into operation, the Hirakud dam operators have kept the water level at the Hirakud Dam way above the rule curve recommended for the dam in 1988. Had the dam operated in a way to keep the level below the recommended level, the current flood disaster could have been avoided, it impact hugely reduced.

-          Himanshu Thakkar, in response to the September 2008 floods.
For further details, please contact:

Ranjan K Panda
Water Initiatives Odisha: Fighting water woes, combating climate change... more than two decades now!

R-3/A-4, J. M. Colony, Budharaja
Sambalpur 768 004, Odisha, INDIA
Mobile: +919437050103
You can also mail me at:

Skype: ranjan.climatecrusader

Please join our group 'Save Rivers Save Civilizations' at

[1] Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) is a state level coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two decades now.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Build Up to State Level Consultation on Floods

State Level Consultation on Floods - Odisha

Dear All,

As we gear up for the State Level Consultation on Flood Management to be held on 23rd October at Bhubaneswar, we are highly encouraged by the tremendous response received from many organisations and individuals.  We thank you all for supporting us in this first ever such civil society intervention aimed towards working on a contributory process to help build an effective flood management platform in the state.  

As we have already informed, this is just the beginning and we envisage a lot of collaborative and coordinated action with all of you and other networks, people, researchers, experts, govt. departments and all others concerned.  We will ensure that the debate around floods do not hibernate as soon as the floods recede.  With all your support, we are sure, we can do this.  

Even as we are finalizing the agenda and discussion points for the Consultation, we have initiated a debate across various groups in the nation seeking people to give in their suggestions on the issues we have raised so far.  The India Water Portal made a brief analysis of all the matters we raised through our regular Updates.  We have circulated that to you.  Currently, we have initiated a debate on some issues in the Solution Exchange network hosted by the UN.  We are writing below a detailed note on the same and want to run the  debate in Odisha, through all the e-groups we are part of, as a consultative preparation for the State Level Consultation.

We request you to please give your thoughts on the same and write back to us with your comments and suggestions.  This will make the day long deliberation much more enriching and engaging.

Look forward to hear from you.
Thanks and regards,

Ranjan Panda

Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO)

On behalf of WIO, ODAF, FCFC, OKAA and all other organisations and individuals who are supporting us in this unique initiative.


Your Comments Needed on Ways to Improve Flood Management in Odisha

Odisha, a disaster prone state, has just been ravaged by two spells of devastating floods this September.  The floods have virtually caught the state and its floods response system unawares.  The state is among the firsts in the country to have set up a Disaster Management Authority but there seemed a big vacuum in all the three stages of response: 1. Flood Forecasting and management (including dam management); 2. Rescue and relief;  and 3. Rehabilitation.  

The floods have affected more than 5.6 million people in 21 districts (with eight districts overlapping between the two floods) out of the 30 districts of the state.  This is about 13.3 per cent of the total population.  The officially recorded human casualty is 83 and livestock casualty is in several thousands.  More than 8 thousand villages have been affected, 3 thousand out of which were completely submerged during the floods.  One third of a million houses were damaged and crop damage has been enormous. 

From the day one when the flood deluge occurred, the mismanagement of the Hirakud big dam over river Mahanadi (6th largest river of the country) once again came to the limelight and this time, unlike the 2008 floods – when too the dam’s mismanagement caused lot of damage that could have been avoided - the issue was picked up by both political parties and civil society circles, finally resulting in the Governor of Odisha ordering an inquiry into this.  A PIL has also been filed by some groups in the Odisha High Court with this regard.  People of the state say this flood surpassed the damages and devastation of the 1982 floods, known to be the deadliest in recent history.  

The question is why we are grappling with the same issues that we encountered in 1982?  This is especially when we keep saying that we have learnt lessons from the Gujarat earthquake and Odisha Super Cyclone that gave rise to the formation of the National Disaster Management Authority. 

Each time a flood occurs, govt., civil society and the media wake up to it and the tempo dies down as soon as the floods recede and/or impacts’ scars are temporarily healed.  We at WIO are now trying to change this ‘short lived memory’ system and have decided to stir up the minds and actions of all involved in these issues.  We are already organising/participating in several such debates/discussions in the grassroots level; in the media and at other forums.  

On 23rd of this month, WIO along with its member and support organisations and individuals, is organising a State Level Consultation to discuss the history of floods in Odisha - including the 2011 floods - in order to find a solution towards its management.  WIO believes that we have to live with floods and should now gear up to manage these floods in a more systematic, participatory, decentralised and scientific manner than ever before.  We have to initiate the change.  We have to demand a proper flood management policy.  This debate is to seek your help and suggestion in that regard.

 We  request all members in the list to share their views on the following questions:

1.     What we can do to improve the flood management along rivers?  Do you think an integrated river basin management system where the people take the centre stage of participation and governance will help?

2.     What kind of a flood plain zone management will be of use in the current day society where urbanisation and encroachment of flood plains is just becoming the other name of development?  Do you think we should think about going back to the Model Bill on Flood Plain Zoning that was circulated by the CWS to all states way back in 1975? 

3.     Do you have any examples of a proper flood and flood plain management in your state or country?  If yes, please do share.  Also, please give your thoughts on what kind of inter-state agreements should exist for river basin management?  Should they be legally binding or not?

 The information thus provided by you would help us to enrich the debate we are hosting in the state at the moment and will also contribute towards our recommendation for a Flood Management Policy.  It will also help the state and its people adapt to floods and other disasters. So, please consider this at utmost urgent and kindly respond.


Ranjan K Panda

Water Initiatives Odisha: Fighting water woes, combating climate change... more than two decades now!

R-3/A-4, J. M. Colony, Budharaja
Sambalpur 768 004, Odisha, INDIA
Mobile: +919437050103
You can also mail me at:

Skype: ranjan.climatecrusader

Please join our group 'Save Rivers Save Civilizations' at

Kiss the rain when you can, because water and abundance are falling apart...(Ranjan Panda)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thought of the day - 13th Oct 2011

For true reforms to come, current day humans must stop 

being venal...

Ranjan Panda

Friday, October 7, 2011

Man-made floods in Orissa- analysis of key issues raised by WIO

Man-made floods in Orissa - Key issues raised by the Flood Updates and Press Releases of Water Initiatives Orissa

Orissa was hit by two spates of flood in September 2011, the first one being caused by heavy rains in the Mahanadi catchment and release of huge discharges from Hirakud dam. The second one was caused by heavy rains and flooding of Brahmani, Baitarani and Budhabalanga rivers. 

The sheer scale of the flood can be judged from the fact that “nineteen of the state’s 30 districts are affected. Initial calculations by the state government reveal that almost 4.5 million people -- more than 11% of Orissa’s total population -- have been directly and significantly affected. Crops on 4.78 lakh hectares of land -- nearly 7.5% of total cultivable land have been destroyed. At least 68 deaths have been reported so far. More than 2,900 km of road have been damaged. Thousands of affected people are still desperate for food (Ranjan K Panda, InfoChange, October 5, 2011)”.

These floods point to the loopholes in river basin planning and management and calls for urgent attention of planners and policy makers.
Image courtesy: The Hindu
We present here some of the issues that have been raised on Orissa floods by Water Initiatives Orissa (WIO) through its press releases and updates in the recent weeks. The updates present analytical write-ups on the situation, latest news on impact of floods and relief rehabilitation measures. They also present an analysis of the water storage and rainfall situation on various dates most of which point to the lapses in dam management.

Hirakud dam failed miserably in managing Mahanadi floods

Flood Update II of WIO has a lead article titled “How effective are big dams in managing floods?” which presents important observations by scholars and experts on big dams. It states that the floods of 2011 exposes not only how the Hirakud dam, the largest reservoir in Orissa, a multipurpose dam commissioned in 1958 in Sambalpur for among other things controlling floods in the state's delta region has failed miserably in managing floods.

It shows that there is an absence of systems in place through which Orissa can co-ordinate with Chhattisgarh and the India Meteorological Department (IMD). The unprecedented rainfall in Chhattisgarh, which accounts for 85 per cent of the river's catchment area, led to a huge inflow of water into the dam's reservoir that used to hardly ever be full. Furthermore, the obsolete ‘rule curve’, which has not been revised since 1988, needs an immediate overhaul with integration of latest flood forecasting projections, that incorporates effective climate change models.

And both the states must understand that Mahanadi needs to flow unabated and a lot has to be done regarding flood plain management including in urban habitations. Large dams have never been effective in flood control. Rather, they have always aggravated the impacts.

In a recent move the Governor of Orissa has asked the state government to investigate the alleged mismanagement of Hirakud dam through setting up of a Committee to be formed under the chairmanship of a former Central Water Commission (CWC) Chief.

Image courtesy: Firstpost

Rengali dam: Absence of reliable systems of flood forecasting

The Rengali dam, the second largest reservoir in Orissa was built across Brahmani river in Angul district in 1988. Through a special note WIO discusses how the multi-purpose project welters through controversies during each flood. Further, the incomplete canals have also added to the woes as water from the reservoir could not be drained out faster than envisaged.

At the crux of it, the dam authorities should never have allowed so much of water to stay in the reservoir preceding the recent floods till the last moment leading to devastation of about half a million people by design.

Effective flood mitigation through Rengali dam requires proper information well in advance about the flow conditions upstream as well as downstream of the dam. The Rengali dam releases travel in about 20 hours to the delta, which is only slightly less than the basin lag of the uncontrolled areas (about 24 and 30 hours for Brahmani downstream of Rengali and Baitarani respectively).

Image courtesy: Orissa Spider

Need for a flood management policy

The case of Rengali suggests that it’s time the state government comes up with a flood management policy which is not only technically advanced by integrating climate change scenarios but also transparent and involves all sections of the society through proper river basin management, reservoir operations and flood plain management activities.

Some specific suggestions put forth by WIO include –
  • The first thing we need to understand is that we have to live with floods. All the mechanisms of better flood management practices, flood control measures, flood preparedness activities and flood forecasting practices depend on a reliable data transmission and telemetry system. Time has come that the government catch up with the scientific practices for better flood forecasting, flood control and flood mitigation measures.
  • Regular and continuous study of river morphology, hydrology and necessary changes due to climate change and other phenomenon needs to be done so as to keep updating the flood management practices. The upper as well as lower catchments should have well defined stations for recording river discharge and water levels.
  • Having interstate agreements for all interstate rivers for a proper mechanism of flood information sharing.
  • Flood inundation area demarcation in the whole state.
  • Flood plain zoning regulation be implemented.
Greater coordination with Chhatisgarh needed

The Government of Orissa put the responsibility of the flood on the heavy rain in the upper catchment and release of water from Chhatisgarh. However, daily and weekly predictions by the IMD were continuously warning of heavy spells. It proves that the dam management authority has not been following a coordinated approach with Chhatisgarh and IMD. 

The Government of Orissa, which has been aggressively pushing for water sector reforms through Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) needs to also understand that Mahanadi belongs to Chhattisgarh as well and that the latter has to be taken on board.

WIO demands that “it’s time the Government of Orissa establishes proper communication and clearly defined coordinated action with Chhatisgarh on management and planning of Mahanadi river. It also demands that the Government of Orissa must, without any further delay, enter into a legally binding ‘water management and basin planning treaty’ that will help in management of Mahanadi water throughout the year.”

Disaster Management Authority caught unawares

In spite of being one of the first states to have a Disaster Management Agency in place, the state has virtually failed in both predicting and managing the floods.

Need for flood plain zoning

A press release from Water Initiatives Orissa (WIO) dated September 13, 2011 highlights the need for a participatory discussion on the National River Regulation Zone and a proper notification that helps in river basin planning and management.

It urges the Government of Orissa to immediately enact a legislation on the lines of the model bill on flood plain zoning that was circulated way back in 1975 by the Central Water Commission. The bill was meant to be taken up by state governments as a model for freeing flood plains from encroachments.

The model bill provided clauses about flood zoning authorities, surveys and delineation of flood plain area, notification of limits of flood plains, prohibition of the use of the flood plains, compensation and most importantly removing obstructions to ensure free flow of water. However, 36 years have passed and the state government has not brought it into action.

As an immediate measure, before this process takes place, WIO urges upon the government to issue strict circulars to all urban bodies of the state to remove encroachments from flood plains by entering into ‘free prior informed dialogue and consent’ process with the would be affected communities and by adhering to best rehabilitation packages.

The Government of India, under its Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), had recently proposed to issue a river regulation zone notification to protect riverbeds from any harmful constructions in future. The press release urges upon the Government of Orissa to take proactive action to persuade the Government of India to put this plan in public domain and initiate discussion with each state and the people of the country and bring into force a strict river regulation zone which can help in proper river basin planning and management and hence help rivers from further dying and also in reducing flood furies.

Given that in this decade, the frequency of floods have increased and there have been five major floods, the state needs to draw lessons from its disaster filled history. It is high time that it looks for ecological measures for flood management and bans construction activities on the flood plains altogether. It is only with these holistic measures that least damage to life and property can be ensured in Orissa.

Download the updates and press releases by WIO below -

Water Initiatives Orissa (WIO) is a state level coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two decades now.

Contact details of WIO:

Ranjan Panda
Convenor, Water Initiatives Orissa
Cell: 9437050103