Room for the river: Mitigating flood risk in South and Southeast Asia

The Third Pole –

As the waters of the flooded Kosi river swirled closer, Rohit Kumar started to pull down his new home in the village of Govindpur, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, brick by brick.

It was the only way to save the house from being washed away by the floodwaters. All the villagers were doing the same, according to a news report. Everyone was fleeing with whatever they could salvage.

And this in a village supposed to be protected from floods by an embankment.

Embankments continue to be built to supposedly protect villages and farms. They are also policymakers’ preferred means of protecting the many structures coming up in floodplains in and around cities, in contravention of various rules.

Floodplains have become sites of large-scale human intervention due to the economic advantages they provide, such as a level surface with a rich layer of earth, access to a freshwater source, easy navigation and so on. Once the interventions occur, the high density of population and economic interests lead to the protection of these interventions rather than of the floodplains.

But vulnerability to flood damage has increased manifold as a result. Multan and Lahore in the Indus basin; Delhi, Patna, Guwahati and Dhaka in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin; Mandalay in the Ayeyarwady basin; Pakse and Phnom Penh in the Mekong basin – all exhibit these characteristics of urban growth.

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