Oxfam calls for radical rethink of flood policies in South Asia

By Oxfam

International development agency Oxfam today called for a radical rethink in the way South Asian governments implement policies to defend against floods and respond to their aftermath.

In a report released today called Sink or Swim: Why Disaster Risk Reduction is central to surviving floods in South Asia, Oxfam says that some flood defenses, such as the construction of river embankments, can make matters worse. In India’s worse hit area, Bihar, embankments have nearly tripled the flood-prone area from 2.5 million hectares to 6.9 million hectares in the last 50 years. In Nepal, culverts and embankments have obstructed the flow of waters causing major floods and, in Bangladesh, an estimated 75 embankments were breached in one month alone during the current floods.

“This year’s flood is a wake up call for South Asia’s governments. Current flood policies are not working and in some cases are exacerbating the problem. Simple, proven and affordable solutions are available. They are needed now but will be needed even more in the future as climate change increases the probability of such extreme weather events,” said Ashvin Dayal, Oxfam’s head for South Asia.

Oxfam, which has launched emergency South Asian flood appeals in India, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Spain, New Zealand, Quebec, Canada, US and the UK, said that relatively small amounts of investment, compared with economic loses and the cost of flood responses, could make significant impact on people’s ability to cope better.

Oxfam said that a number of policies should be implemented. For South Asian governments they included:

  • Contingency plans at district and sub-district level, including boats for immediate rescue and evacuation, and food stocks to tide people over in the first phase of the flood.
  • A re-assessment of the use of embankments as a flood-control policy to ensure that these do not exacerbate the problem.
  • Building communities’ ability to prepare for floods, including village-level early warning systems, first aid and local contingency planning.
  • More investments in local flood-proof infrastructure: such as flood shelters, raised homesteads, grain banks, raised tube wells.
  • All government policy in flood-prone areas should include reducing the risk of flood as a matter of course, including providing good drainage systems as part of all infrastructure development.

For the international community:

  • Donor governments and institutions should increase their investment in disaster risk reduction by building the resilience of flood-prone communities and local authorities, in addition to the monies needed for short-term critical humanitarian response.

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