Flood Safety: Awareness is key

The year was 2008. The River Kosi had breached its embankment, changed its course and caused massive flooding in north Bihar. Villages were submerged under water for weeks together and even when the water receded, issues of livelihoods and rehabilitation remained. The flood had swept away houses and hopes. Families were torn apart. Stories of despair and hopelessness were strewn across the affected districts even as those affected fought a grim battle for survival. It surely was one of most destructive floods the mostly rural State had seen in recent times. 

In 2015, an unprecedented rainfall took Chennai and its residents by surprise. The water could not find its way through the city's drainage system and led to flooding. People were stranded on rooftops or upper storeys even as the ground floors were submerged, especially in the low-lying areas of the city. Residents claimed not to have seen anything like this before. For days together, harrowing stories of the devastation caused by the waters kept floating.

This year too is no different. Flooding incidents have been reported from various States, including Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala.

In India, on an average every year, 75 lakh hectares of land is affected, 1600 lives are lost and damages to crops, houses and public utilities stand at Rs. 1805 crore. Besides, the frequency of a major flood is more than once in five years.

One of the biggest reasons for these floods is a huge amount of rainfall spread over a relatively short span of time during the monsoon season. Excessive rain brings more and more water to the rivers and their tributaries, causing them to overflow.

While we can't shy away from floods, we definitely can prepare for a flood so that recovery costs less in terms of time, money and stress.

The first step is to know your house and your area well. Don't build on the floodplains. If you already have a house there, elevating and reinforcing it is important. Stoves, furnaces, water heaters, electrical panels should be placed at a height so that minor flooding does not do any damage. You should construct floodwalls and install 'check valves' in your sewer traps to stop floodwaters from easily entering your home and for preventing floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home, respectively. Use waterproof compounds to seal the walls in your basement to avoid seepage. Investing a little extra today will help you save a lot more when the flood comes. The price of mental peace that it will give you then is incalculable.

Look for higher ground and the route to safe shelters around your area. Don't wait for an official warning, just move to higher ground immediately in case you sense the possibility of flash flooding. Even if your area is not really susceptible to flooding, stay alert and monitor local radio and TV channels for information. Evacuate your home immediately if local authorities ask you to do so. Pack essential medication, personal documents, identity cards and clothing in waterproof bags along with an emergency kit beforehand. If you have ignored installing 'check valves' in your sewer traps, use sandbags to cover the toilet bowls and drain holes. Turn off power and gas connection when you evacuate. Avoid walking or driving through floodwaters.

When local officials declare normalcy and you come back home, get an electrician to check all your electrical goods before using them. Check the water lines and sewage pipes for any damage before using toilet or tap water. Use mosquito nets to prevent malaria. 

If you come back to a damaged or destroyed house, approach local authorities for assistance. Keep your identity and property documents handy to receive immediate help.

Offer help to those in need whenever you can. Tell others what you know. Small steps that you take towards making your homes and communities flood resilient go a long way in helping the vulnerable tide over a flood better.

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