Regional collaboration for better flood early warning and resilience in India

Monday, May 21, 2018

India is increasingly threatened by floods, and its resilience depends on successful trans-boundary early warning systems. During a national workshop, organized by Practical Action, key stakeholders came together from across the region to discuss how a successful flood early warning system could be designed and implemented. Here they share their insights and actions for the future:   

India’s vulnerability to floods 

According to the United Nations Global Assessment Report  on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015, India’s average annual economic loss due to disasters is estimated to be US $9.8 billion. This includes more than US$7 billion loss on account of floods. The country also plans to invest three trillion US$ on infrastructure projects, in next five to ten years. Thus the country will need to take substantial efforts to ensure that these investments are sustainable. In India, the devastation caused on account of the floods in rivers flowing from the Himalayas, is substantial and this would need to be adequately factored into our efforts in disaster risk reduction, especially through early warning systems. 

Poor regional cooperation

The regional cooperation across the countries of the region, primarily India, Nepal and Bangladesh, on riverine floods across South Asia is a major concern that merits immediate attention. Often the destruction on account of the floods happens due to inability to obtain timely information from the various institutions that are designed to generate, analyse, disseminate and communicate the information to a range of stakeholders at different levels on a trans-boundary basis. Often the government to government interfaces happen in a formal and straight jacketed manner, providing limited scope, space and opportunities to communities to express their needs, demands and concerns, especially on matters which govern their lives.                

Regional workshop for a better early warning system 

Building on years of experience working in Disaster Risk Reduction in South Asia, Practical Action India took a decision to organise a day-long national workshop on Early Warning Systems and Flood Resilience in New Delhi on 27th April 2018. The event was organised in partnership with International Water Management Institute, Christian Aid, Oxfam and the Special Centre of Disaster Research JNU and  National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi.

The purpose of this workshop was to hold an interactive discussion where policy makers, thinkers, practitioners, researchers and other stakeholders could come together and discuss the importance, potential impacts and feasibility of an effective and functional early warning system for floods and analyse how the community could be meaningfully engaged in these efforts, in the context of new technologies and changing climate. 

The participants at the event explored key gaps among the different institutions working in flood risk reduction. They also discussed planning strategies, new innovative procedures for operation and management, capital/infrastructure improvements, innovations in forecasting methodologies, communication/ dissemination challenges and the need for regional collaboration to achieve flood resilience.  

By sharing case studies of community-based early warning systems in Nepal and India the workshop also helped the participants to gather a better and more nuanced understanding of how an effective early warning could be designed and implemented. Including operational, structural and policy-support requirements, and its eventual impact on community resilience.  

What’s next?

The needs and demands for appropriate institutional arrangements and facilitating protocols for regional coordination and cooperation among the Govt/ non-government institutions were identified as high priority area of work to follow up. This workshop was the first step toward the collaborative approach to deal with floods and this needs to be followed up by inclusion of all relevant stakeholders who are responsible to generate and disseminate early warnings. The involvement of all stakeholders and other players, who are directly and indirectly involved in the flood disaster management programmes was considered essential. 

The highlighted outcomes of the workshop included a cohesive understanding of the various dimensions of early warning system and agreeing to initiate a proposal for organizing a regional level learning platform to advocate the institutional collaboration among different government and civil society organizations to work on EWS and Flood Resilience. The participating agencies also agreed to define an annual plan of action to advocate the cause of EWS and Flood Resilience and initiate the interaction with the state level disaster management authorities/ disaster management departments especially in the two states of Northern India Bihar and UP. Other important outcomes were to strengthen the network of data collection mechanism, aimed at accurate monitoring and effective forecasts.  Other follow up action include:

  • To collaborate with SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) for better flood information sharing with neighboring countries
  • Free flow of communication across borders should be streamlined.
  • To develop more space based advance technologies for shifting from forecasting to now-casting
  • To build capacities of the communities to understand the implications of now-casting
  • To democratize the EWS for bridging the gap between technical departments and communities 
  • Community based early warning system is possible with regional cooperation and collaboration
  • There should preferably be a single instrument of risk transfer mechanism rather than multiple ones as available now
  • Raising the community awareness of crop insurance scheme offered by the government.     

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