District-level flood maps for Bihar ready

Patna : In a positive development for Bihar, an area prone to annual devastating floods, a Kathmandu-based international organisation has generated district-level flood maps for the state’s 33 districts, and an online flood application system, officials said on Saturday.

“With the support of the Australian government, ICIMOD’s Koshi Basin Programme (KBP) collaborated with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to generate district-level flood maps for Bihar’s thirty three districts, and an online flood application system” said Shahriar Wahid, Project Coordinator for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

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He said the Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR), KBP and JAXA was used to generate near real-time flood information and damage assessments. PALSAR has the capability to map flooding 24/7, in all kinds of weather.

ICIMOD KBP coordinator and hydrology expert Shahriar Wahid said mapping and monitoring floods can be highly challenging using optical remote sensing data, especially as floodwaters are rising.

Most images are obstructed by clouds as the majority of satellites are optical and cannot penetrate through it which tend to occur over flooded areas,’ Wahid said.

PALSAR has been instrumental in overcoming those obstacles and was recently used in August to prepare 33 district inundation maps at the height of flooding in Bihar. ICIMOD and JAXA provided a quick estimate of the inundated areas including agricultural, grassland, barren area, built-up area and fish ponds. Floodwaters had engulfed 18,755 sq kms affecting ninety four per cent of agricultural land.

“Bihar Inter Agency Group (BIAG) members, namely international non-governmental organisations and UN agencies, are currently assessing the impact of floods in the state’s affected districts, and naturally this flood map would be extremely helpful to them,” said Asif Shahab, Project Officer, Environment and Climate Change, Bihar State Disaster Management Authority (BSDMA).

He said the maps would be useful to Bihar government’s Disaster Management Department (DMD), which is involved in search and rescue operations and distributes relief and manages flood relief camps.

Flood maps illustrating village-level inundation have the potential to support BSDMA in several community-level risk reduction activities. Such information is crucial to the government’s smooth response to flood management as waters continue to rise in Bihar.

According to them, Bihar is India’s most flood-prone state and is under constant threat of flooding. Every year, floods destroy lives, livestock, infrastructure and bring with them a huge financial toll.

During a disaster obtaining reliable information is crucial, according to BSDMA, whose mandate is to design disaster risk reduction plans and policies as well as long-term preparedness.

One key challenge for BSDMA is the mapping and monitoring of flood-affected villages.

Floods and related disasters are a perennial concern in the Kosi basin, where seasonal monsoon rains and glacial melting frequently lead to dangerously high water levels in the river.

Bihar, where the Kosi merges with the Ganga, is India’s most flood-prone state, with 76 per cent of residents in the northern regions vulnerable to recurring floods.

Bihar annually suffers loss of life, property, infrastructure and agriculture due to floods.

According to BSDMA, floods displaced 33,200 people in 2014.

Kosi is one of the most sediment-laden rivers in the world, making it highly prone to flooding.

One of the most serious disasters occurred in August 2008 with the breaching of the Kusaha embankment near the India-Nepal border, resulting in flooding of five districts of north Bihar.