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Fearsome Freshets—the Karnataka Floods

Torrential rains have battered Karnataka since the first week of August. Several parts of the state are currently facing flash floods for the third consecutive year. The monsoon has caused widespread destruction of property and infrastructure and has also resulted in people losing their lives in the previous occurences. Severe flooding has been reported in Udupi city with other adjacent towns such as Alevoor, Puttige, Gundibailu, Kalsanka, Bailakere, Adi Udupi, Kinnimulki, and Koodavoor bearing the brunt of excessive rainfall.

Residents of Udupi being shifted to safer places in rafts as floodwaters inundated their homes. Image Credits: IB Times

The worsening situation forced the Udupi district administration to summon NDRF teams. They were housed at temporary shelters created by the district administration. Traffic on the roads came to a standstill as the intensity of the rain increased, with areas like Kalsanka, Kaup, and Manipal reporting a complete halt in transportation facilities. Several shops in Udupi suffered as flood water gushed inside their stores, forcing shopkeepers to shift their commodities to safer places.

Red Alerts and Government Relief

Just as the district administration sounded a red alert when the Swarna and Sita rivers started overflowing, three boats capsized in Malpe in the early hours of 20th September, forcing the fishermen on board to take shelter on a rock in the middle of the sea. They were rescued later by the NDRF personnel. Several bridges in Karkala taluk, Udupi district were washed away due to heavy rains while more than 30 houses in Manai village near Hirriyadka were submerged. Senior officers in the government also coordinated with officials from Maharashtra on the release of water from their dams—a significant reason for the floods last year.

Karnataka—getting used to this carnage of rains, every monsoon season—has estimated the losses due to the recent flash floods at Rs. 8,071 crore. “This year’s flood has destroyed the crops in about four lakh hectares of land. We have also experienced the loss of lives, livestock, and damage to the infrastructure including roads, schools, and bridges,” said Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa. He also directed the government to release Rs 50 Crore for relief purposes. While no loss of life has been reported yet, 1107 houses have been partially submerged, 2874 people have been shifted to safer areas, and 31 relief camps have been opened in the state.

Prevention Measures and Subsequent Evacuation

As the dreaded months of westerly monsoon arrived, the government decided to bring about an integrated approach to prevent flooding—starting with dams. “In early years, operators allowed dams to fill to the brim as early as July, and the sudden gush of water caused when the dam gates opened coinciding with the excessive rainfall drowned the unprepared district in the months of August and September. This year, dams will only be allowed to fill completely towards the end of monsoon. We have been updating authorities concerned with weather forecasts using hi-tech systems,” said Manoj R Ranjan, commissioner of Karnataka State Disaster Management Authority.

Reports also suggest that the dam’s side of preparations did not go as planned. Heavy rainfall and massive inflows into the Kabini reservoir at HD Kote in the Mysyru district forced the authorities to release 35,000 cusecs of water from the dam into the Kabini and Cauvery river earlier. This caused the government to order the rescue, evacuation, and safe transportation of citizens to safer regions.

Shops and houses across the town were submerged underwater due to excessive rainfall in this post-monsoon season. Image Credits: Express News Service

A local government official confirmed that 100 relief camps, 300 boats, and 300+ ferries were ready to be called into action in the Belgavi and Bagalkot districts, in case of an emergency. To date, 36 relief camps have been opened, where around 1,250 people have taken accommodation while over 4100 people were shifted to safer areas. NDRF and SRDF teams from Mysuru and Mangaluru headed the rescue operations. As of 20th September 2020, around 50 people were rescued by NDRF personnel.

This is not the first time floods have hit these districts, especially Udupi and Uttara Kannada. Every year these districts are affected by the rain, a lot of people are displaced, loss of life and property is incurred, and livelihoods are ruined—both financially and emotionally. Year after year, all the inter-state agreements and decisions at disaster mitigation within the state have let the people down. The lackluster attitude of professionals managing the system often reflects the fact that they don’t ask the right questions about the issues, which will inevitably lead to the right answers. Taking care of the deluge is important not only to ensure economic prosperity but also to assert the importance of far-sighted goals for the next generation of bureaucrats and officials, and Karnataka hopes to see a better response to the situation in the coming years.

Featured Image Credits: IB Times