NEW DELHI, July 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Authorities across India are taking steps to help millions of people hit by floods and to prepare for future disasters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, adding that climate change and new weather patterns were having a “big negative impact”.
At least 130 people have died in western and northeastern parts of India and millions of people have been affected by floods that have submerged villages, washed away crops, destroyed roads and disrupted power and phone lines.
Heavy monsoon rains have caused mighty rivers like the Brahmaputra river and their tributaries to burst their banks forcing people into relief camps in states such as Gujarat, Assam, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
“Mother Nature gives us life and nurtures us, but at times natural catastrophes such as floods and earthquakes wreak havoc on a massive scale,” Modi said in his monthly radio address to the nation on Sunday.
“Climate change, altered weather cycles, and transformations in the environment, are also having a big negative impact.”
India usually experiences monsoon rains from June to September, which are vital for its agriculture — making up 18 percent of its gross domestic product and providing employment for almost half of its 1.3 billion population.
But in many states across the country, the rains frequently cause rivers to overflow and flooding forces millions into temporary camps, devastates standing crops, destroys homes and exposes people to diseases such as diarrhoea.
The torrential rains this year have not only triggered landslides in hilly regions like Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, they have also flooded national parks, forcing wildlife, including the rare one-horned rhinoceros, to flee.
The fast-flowing waters have also breached embankments and eroded dikes in some areas, leaving some roads inaccessible, compounding efforts to rescue marooned villagers.
Rains have been 4 percent above average since the four-month monsoon season began in June, according to the state-run India Meteorological Department.
Modi said relief efforts were being carried out on an “extensive scale” with camps set up for the displaced and search and rescue teams deployed.
“Life goes completely topsy-turvy as a result of the floods. Crops, livestock, infrastructure, roads, electricity, communication links – everything gets affected,” said Modi.
“In particular, our farmer brethren have to bear a lot of losses because of the damage to their crops and fields.”
Modi said pre-emptive measures were put in place ahead of the monsoon season.
A scheme for crop insurance companies to ensure quick settlements of claims by farmers and a 24/7 helpline for flood-hit communities was set up, he said, and mock drills conducted by the National Disaster Response Forces.
Volunteers in flood-prone regions have also been enlisted and trained in basic “dos and don’ts” to advise communities at risk, he said, adding that it was important to use technology more in order adapt to the changing weather patterns.
“We should also gradually make it our nature to set our work patterns according to the weather predictions, which could safeguard us against losses,” he said.
Reporting by Nita Bhalla, editing by Ros Russell for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.