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'New strategy needed to tame Kosi river'

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  26 March 2015 12:00 AM GMT

Kathmandu, March 25: Flood and river magement is needed to tame the sediment laden Kosi river whose muddy, swirling waters have caused considerable woe in Bihar, experts said here. The strategy of flood control has become outdated and it should be replaced by flood and river magement for sustaible development in the Kosi basin in Nepal and India, flood, river and water experts suggested to policy makers of both the countries to provide succour to millions, mostly the poorest of the poor.

“So far measures taken for flood control are not working. They cannot work, something else needs to be done and that will be a combition of people’s wisdom and the skill of engineers. But unfortutely there is contempt for each other and they are not on talking terms,” Dinesh Kumar Mishra, a flood expert who has spent over three decades in studying the problems of the Kosi basin in India, said at a workshop “Understanding a Transboundary Basin: The case of the Kosi” that concluded here on Wednesday.

River scientist Rajiv Sinha of IIT Kanpur said that more than flood control and river control, now stress should be laid on river and flood magement by authorities on both sides of the Kosi basin.

“Like every river, the Kosi river has its own dymics and till date there was a systemic failure to address it, especially the accumulation of sediment in the river channel. This dymic ture means that failures of the embankments are inevitable,” Sinha said at the workshop organised by the Third Pole in partnership with the Asia Foundation.

The Kusaha embankment near the India-Nepal border on the Kosi river was breached on August 18, 2008.

Five districts of north Bihar were flooded, killing over 400 people and rendering nearly three million people homeless. More than 300,000 houses were destroyed and crops spread over at least 840,000 acres were damaged.

S.M. Wahid, a water expert, said the new focus should be on helping people to overcome the fear of floods in the Kosi basin.

“With climate change affecting rivers too, policy makers should shift their attention to reduce likely loss of lives in the near future,” he said.

Wahid, who is coorditor of the Kosi basin initiative and senior hydrologist at the Intertiol Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, said that Nepal needs regiol cooperation on disaster warning systems and development of water resources.

According to Bihar’s water resources department, the Kosi origites at an altitude of over 7,000 m in the Himalayas. Known as Sapta Kosi in Nepal, the river enters India near Hanuman gar in Nepal. It joins the Ganga river near Kursela in Katihar district. The Kosi drains a total catchment area of 74,030 sq km. Mishra said that investment in flood control measures on the Kosi is harming people more than helping them.

According to Mishra, an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) engineer-turned-activist, before and soon after India attained independence, British experts including engineers and top officials were opposed to construction of embankments for controlling floods in the Kosi.

“British engineers have repeatedly stated that Kosi flood water was not a problem, sediment in the river was a challenge and a problem and they were opposed to construction of embankments,” he said.

Mishra said embankments across the world have failed to provide protection and have been breached.

Sinha was of the opinion that “the construction of the embankments over time created a false sense of security among local communities near Kosi”. He said Kosi is one of the most sediment-laden rivers in the world, making it highly prone to flooding. The construction of barrages, embankments and other structures has restricted the flow and sediment carrying capacity of the river. “Kosi is still in the same condition and the likelihood of a breach in its embankment still exists,” Sinha said in reference to a study conducted after the breach of the eastern embankment at Kusaha in Nepal in 2008 that caused one of the worst floods in Bihar. (IANS)

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