There’s an interesting report in the BBC regarding the lack of cooperation between South Asian countries in preventing timely flood warnings that could save lives and property during the monsoon season. It is believed that the sharing of hydrological data can be a sensitive issue because of disputes over water use, which in turn results in building barriers between governments from different countries when working together on flood warnings.
But for genuine regional flood forecasting, all countries including India and China will need to actively participate.
Floods without Borders
There are many examples of recent floods where countries or states within the same country haven’t worked together in either forecasting floods or developing co-ordinated protective measures. There are even some examples where countries have accused neighbours of exacerbating the flooding. Surely it’s time to accept that flood waters don’t respect political boundaries and that to put up any effective fight against future flooding, governments need to work together.
After the floods in Germany of June 2013, one of the suggested ways forwards for flood prevention and protection there was to develop more and better cooperation between the federal states of the country. A disjointed approach to flood prevention in Germany had resulted states building flood defences that simply pushed flood waters further downstream and into the next state for them to deal with.
Uttarakhand and Nepal
After the torrential rains in the Himalaya region around Nepal and north India, Nepal claimed that it received no warning from India of the floods that hit Uttarakhand, and in fact, there has been little contact since the floods to work on possible solutions for the future. Even worse, during the Uttarakhand floods of June 2013, Nepal accused India of creating the floods that struck Nepal at the same time. On 24th June I wrote:
Locals in the Darchula District as well as Nepal media have blamed the release of water from Dhauliganga Dam reservoir of the Dhauliganga hydroelectric project (in India) for the floods. India was quick to refute the accusation through a statement issued by the Indian Embassy in Nepal.
Bihar and Nepal
In July 2013 Bihar in India was once again engulfed by flood waters as a result of heavy monsoon rains. But the floods came at a time Nepal was also suffering from flooding, and had in fact opened 37 of the 52 flood gates if the Koshi dam. Bihar soon felt the effects of this.
Uttar Pradesh and Nepal
The flood situation in Uttar Pradesh is often worsened following any release of water from Banbasa barrage in nearby Nepal.
Pakistan and Afghanistan
The Kabul river that runs between Pakistan and Afghanistan broke its banks in 2010 resulting in massive flooding in Pakistan, where at one time there was as much as 20% of Pakistan’s land under water. Again there was little communication between authorities on flood forecasting and that situation still remains.
Mohammad Riyaj, Pakistan’s chief meteorologist, said:
“The Kabul river is of course a flood threat to us even today but still we have no hydrological and rainfall data exchange with Afghanistan. It is something we need to do with urgency but this can be done only at the policy-making level.”
Pakistan and India
According to the BBC report, Pakistan does have a mechanism to receive limited hydrological data from India but officials say it is quite inadequate for meaningful flood forecasting.
The Way Forward
Coperation between Bangladesh and India may give us a template of the way forward in data sharing and flood forecasting. India provides Bangladesh authorities with data from 7 Indian reading stations in total – for the Ganges and the Bramhaputra. China also provides Bangladesh with data for the Bramhaputra in Tibet.
It’s a start, at least. Although to be able to offer effective flood warnings, data from further afield would be required in order to give a more timely advance warning.
Hindu Kush Himalayas – intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing
For more information regarding regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing between member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, see International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
Globalization and climate change have an increasing influence on the stability of fragile mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of mountain people. ICIMOD aims to assist mountain people to understand these changes, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues.