Riverine Flood Hazard: Part B. Disaster Risk Reduction in India

Riverine Flood Hazard

  • Robert James Wasson
  • Vikrant Jain IIT Gandhinagar
  • Ajay Katuri 3Consultant, 61-8/3-5 Kotinagar, Krishnalanka, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh-520013 India
  • Siddhartha Lahiri Department of Applied Geology, Dibrugarh University, Dibrugarh-786004, India
  • Surya Parkash Indian Institute of Disaster Management, 5-B, IIPA Campus, IP Estate, Mahatma Gandhi Marg, New Delhi-110002, India
  • Ashok Kumar Singhvi Physical Research Laboratory, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad-380009, India
  • Navarun Varma Residential College 4 (University Town), National University of Singapore, 6 College Avenue East #B1-01, Singapore-138614
  • Priya Bansal Institute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, 469A Bukit Timah Road, Singapore-259770
  • Chuah Chong Joon Institute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, 469A Bukit Timah Road, Singapore-259770
Keywords: floods, Disaster Risk Reduction, hazards


The economic risk from and social vulnerability to riverine floods in India is one of the highest, if not the highest, in the world, with millions of people exposed and vulnerable, and billions of rupees worth of property and infrastructure at risk. Between 1953 and 2011 the total number of human lives lost to floods was 97,551 and the total economic cost of floods in India was 4.506.1012 INR (6912.107 USD) in 2017 prices. Embankments have been the dominant flood protection scheme, or Disaster Risk Reduction strategy, since Independence and despite the heroic construction of tens of thousands of embankments to protect lives and property from floods, economic damage continues to rise, even when normalized for inflation to take account of increasing wealth and therefore an increase in the amount of property that can be damaged. Explanations of this apparent paradox vary, but appear to centre on breaches in embankments, incomplete embankments, sedimentation in channels because of embankments and therefore deeper and more dangerous floods, human encroachment onto floodplains partly as a result of ‘the levee effect’ whereby people feel safe in the presence of embankments, and the displacement of traditional coping mechanisms by government initiatives. While governments, NGOs, and academics have often discussed non-structural DRR, and some is in place, there has been little development of this approach to more completely complement structural interventions to reduce deaths and damage. A workshop of flood management practitioners and analysts in February 2017 produced a set of recommendations for a more robust form of DRR for India, and they are presented as a contribution to at least moderate what has become an existential crisis for many Indians.


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