Some ideas for prevention of flood in Manipur

Oinam Nabakishore Singh *

Flood in Imphal city :: 14th June 2018
Flood in Imphal city on 14th June 2018 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Occurrence of flood, associated human suffering and loss of property are increasing every year in Manipur. With the first monsoon rain for about three days, the rivers in Manipur valley had swollen to the brim causing breaches at sixteen river banks of major rivers. It is reported that seven people have lost their lives.

Cattle, poultry and other animals too suffered. Houses in the affected areas are inundated. In some place, the level of submergence was near about the roof. Many houses have been swept away. Properties, whatsoever of the residents, are lost. There is no drinking water. Toilets are also submerged. Suffering of affected people is immense and cannot be fully described in words.

Everybody will wish that floods do not repeat in future. Now, it is just the beginning of the monsoon. Many more floods may occur till the monsoon is over. We are mainly concerned with immediate problems of plugging the breaches of river banks. Once the flood recedes, we tend to forget that we have not yet addressed the root causes of flood especially in the valley. It was reported that there was flood in the hills also. But little media coverage of the flood in the hills was there in the local media.

All of us know that the major cause of flood is deforestation in the catchment areas of the major rivers and their tributaries. Roots of the trees are the passages for seepage of rainwater below the surface. Vegetative cover of hill slopes and leaves of trees help in prevention of soil erosion. In their absence, rain water runoff easily brings down the soil in the form of sediments comprising of dissolved and suspended particles.

The sediments over time are deposited in the river beds to reduce the discharge volume of the river. Another major reason is that the slopes of hills of catchment areas are steep and rain water there is quickly drained to the tributaries and rivers. Since most of flood plains are very close to the origin of the rivers in the hills, the velocity of flow of river water is high and the impact of flow at points of breaches is high and difficult to manage.

The obvious long term solution of flood caused by overflow of rivers lies in afforestation of catchment areas and conservation of existing plants and vegetation there without disturbance.

How do we do this? Trees and forests are closely linked to livelihood of people living in nearby places. People fell trees for mainly three reasons-logging for timber, need for firewood and shifting cultivation. In spite of orders of Supreme Court and High Court of Manipur, saw mills(legal or illegal) are seen to be stocking a good stock of timbers. It proves that extraction of timbers is going on unabated.

What is worst is that new roads are freshly cut on virgin forest areas destroying undergrowth, vegetation and trees on the path. While felling a big timber tree, many small trees are also felled resulting in widespread destruction of forest. It necessary to strictly enforce ban of felling of trees by the communities, local authorities and state machineries.

Apart from creating awareness of the long term adverse effects of deforestation, imposition of penalty by the community is imperative. The State Government too should have zero tolerance of logging for timber. Manipulation of records and fraud by loggers have to be checked. Any unauthorized timber at any saw mill should be seized and disposed of with penalty. The Government also have to encourage use of substitutes for wood in furniture making.

With regard to felling of trees for firewood and making of charcoal, we need to have one hundred percent coverage of households with supply of LPG for cooking. It is achievable with increase in availability of LPG and income of households. Indian Oil Corporation has started marketing of smaller five kilogram LPG through petrol pumps as free sale LPG. The quantity of such LPG cylinders needs to increase.

The State Government of Manipur should request the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India to allocate adequate quantity of LPG to cover the entire population so that there is no demand for firewood for cooking. Firewood is also extensively as fuel in brick kilns across the state. This leads to widespread destruction of forest every year. It is high time to switch over to coal for burning of bricks.

A comprehensive legislation to ban use of firewood by brick fields and its enforcement will help. There is supply of coal available in many nearby states.If coal is used in place of firewood in all the brick kilns in Manipur, there will be significant reduction in felling of trees.

While we consider the proposal of diverting people living in the hills from the practice of jhooming in order to preserve forests, we need to find alternative livelihood for the people dependent on the practice of jhooming. Main crop grown on the jhoom land is paddy, which is staple food of the people.

The easiest intervention is ensuring supply of 5 Kg. of rice per month @ Rs.3.00 per Kg. to every individual under the National Food Security Act(NFSA) fully. Since most of the people in the hills will be eligible to receive monthly rice under the programme, the supply of cheap rice under NFSA will meet a large part of rice requirement.

It is reported that people living in Ukhrul town are now facing a huge problem of scanty supply of water by the Department of Public Health Engineering Department as the source of water at Siroy hills have been deforested. Similar stories of less availability of water from springs, streams and brooks from deforested hills are quite common and people living in villages and towns face problem of poor water supply.

Further, the Department of Horticulture and Soil Department has the responsibility of conserving top soil in the hills by various means like adoption of terrace cultivation. Conservation of forest help in soil conservation. Department of Irrigation and Flood Control(now renamed as Water Resources) has the objective of prevention of flood by adopting various measures.

Since conservation of forest by persuading the jhoomia to abstain from jhooming help in prevention of flood, that department has to contribute to conservation of forest. Now there is a need for convergence among the Departments of Forest, Public Health Pngineering, Horticulture and Soil Conservation and Forest. Forest Department may consider drawing up a scheme for preservation of forest likely to be lost to jhooming.

Under the scheme, a comprehensive agreement may be reached between the Village Authority and Forest Department so that families engaged in jhooming in the village are compensated in cash or kind(rice) for the loss of paddy from jhoom cultivation. Fund required for such compensation may be pooled together from the departments mentioned here. However, ensuring the compliance of the terms of the agreement and protection of forest has to be jointly monitored by the Village Authority(community) and officials concerned.

The practice of joint forest management may be followed. We have seen many success stories of conservation of forest by the communities both in the hills and plains, with better supply of water outcome. We should try to replicate such success stories elsewhere.

Apart from forest conservation, we should also conserve the existing water bodies to store excess water from rainfall. Construction activities on erstwhile lakes like Lamphel, Porompat, Yaralpat, etc., should be stopped forthwith. Land filling for construction decreases volume of water holding by the water bodies. Besides, any covered space reduces the surface for seepage of rain water to ground water.

Because of urbanization and construction of buildings in cities, the area available for water seepage to ground water has been reduced considerably. Now, we need to bore hole to allow discharge of rain water below the surface. Since water table in the valley area is high, limited quantity of water will be discharged.

There arises the need for adequate storm water drain with appropriate gradients and water storage facilities. In the past, there used to be a large number of ponds in all communities. They too helped a little in collection of rainwater to meet the future water needs.

Whenever, there is heavy rainfall and rivers in the valley are swollen, people start questioning the Ithai dam on Manipur river for Loktak Hydroelectric Power Station. The said dam has not only disturbed the ecosystem of Loktak lake, Pumlen lake, Ikop lake and other lakes which are interconnected, but it also contributed largely to siltation and growth of weeds(Phumdis) in Loktak lake.

In order to allow faster flow of water of Imphal River(Manipur River after Sekmaijin) and draining of wate from Loktak through Khordak( a water channel connecting Loktak and Manipur river), it is advisable to keep the gates of the dam open most of the time.

Experts in hydrology should calculate water discharge rate at various points along the river and arrive at the appropriate size of river cross section and slope. Whereever, there is need for correction, dredging and desiltation works should be taken up.

However, the suggestions made here are based on common sense and a little knowledge. Actual study and design of solutions for prevention of flood may be done by experts. An integrated and holistic approach should help in reducing flood and human miseries in our state.

Views expressed here are personal.

* Oinam Nabakishore Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer may be contacted at oinamsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com for any queries/comments
This article was posted on 03 July , 2018 .

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