by Alex Tsakiridis
Summary: This article discusses coping mechanisms and flood risk reduction measures employed by locals to tackle periodic flooding of the Kosi river, or the “sorrow of Bihar”, India.
When waters engulf the land, particularly in low-lying areas of the Kusheshwar Asthan Purbi block, at the Darbhanga district of Bihar, villages become detached from the rest of the world. Due to the unique characteristics of the wetland in the area, covering 14,000 hectares (Singh, 2000), some propose to identify it as a Ramsar site which could be developed for eco-tourism (Islam and Rahmani, 2008; Jha et al. 2011). The State government had already declared them as “protected sanctuaries” for conservation, but nothing else has been done since then (Singh 2000). Other areas are covered with diara lands, situated between natural levees of the river and formed due to its course changing behavior and meandering (Kumar et al. 2013), and tal lands which are bowl-shaped depressions. In the meanwhile, it is in these floodplains that villages resort to living on raised levels of land and feed themselves with snails, chartángas (crabs), kálmi sáag (water spinach or Ipomoea aquatica) and leaves of aquatic plants found in land depressions.
Cháurs or depression basins are naturally formed by changes in river courses but can be artificially maintained. They are prevalent in Kusheshwar Asthan, and include the cháurs of Larail, Mahrail, Mahisath and Bargaon. Máuns on the other hand are defunct loops of rivers distinguished from the main rivers. With dry land being submerged for 6 months, wetlands as areas of faunistic and floristic diversity become sources of livelihood. These can include pisciculture (fishing) conducted in the non-rain season, or cultivation of prickly water lily (Euryale ferox) or makhána (Singh, 2000). In fact, the fish productivity in cháurs is 15kg/ha/yr while in máuns it is between 60-150 kg/ha/yr (NAAS, 2013). These activities state that besides the land economy, north Bihar also invests in a water economy (Singh, 2000) which provides multiple other services besides food security, such as flood protection, groundwater recharge and water supply – provided that, of course, the wetlands are protected from anthropogenic pressures and are de-silted regularly.
The aquatic plants such as the théthar (pink morning glory or Ipomoea carnea) originating in these water bodies are used for food, fodder, fuel, housing and protection from erosion , suggesting a remarkable sense of adaptation from the side of locals (Jha, 2015). For instance, Eichhornian crassipes (or kechulí in the local language), an invasive species of? in the tropics providing shelter to mosquitoes which might be vectors of malaria, is actually used for constructing floating bridges. The same plant is also used as fuel for cooking and manure for crops, as well as for a traditional method of fishing known as jháng. The floods of 1974 caused the uprooting of orchards and as a consequence led to the lack of firewood, which made people use Sesbania rostrata, another aquafyte called Manager by the locals. This plant acts as a source of fodder during flooding and as a protecting measure for crops against kechulí’s invading tendency. On the other hand, these cases of relying on natural resources have their limits; Eugenia jambolana trees (or jamún) being scarce, iron sheets are now being used for carving boats (ibid).
The reader may find below a table on the coping mechanisms and the flood risk reduction measures undertaken in the vicinity of Ujua and the nearby Kolatoka village in the Kusheshwar Asthan Purbi block of the Darbhanga district. Due to the main feature of the landscape, the river basin, these capacities and activities may also be found in the greater area. This table also presents a clear distinction between “coping capacity”, as the ability of households to surpass a crisis, and “disaster risk reduction”, as the systematic intervention in reducing the risk or impact of a disaster.
|Coping Mechanisms||Disaster Risk Reduction|
|1. 10-15 out of 2,158 persons (Census, 2011) have access to credit or remittances from friends and relatives or have adequate savings, but it is mostly the households (HHs) of the landlords (217 HHs) who are able to retain their livelihood during disasters.
2. 5-7 out of 190 households among the low caste HHs and all the ones of the landlords (217) have sufficient stock of assets to mortgage or sell.
3. 5-7 out of 217 HHs of the landlords are covered under insurance policies and have access to latrines during disasters.
4. 50% of the low caste HHs (190) and all the HHs of landlords (217) have sufficient food-stock for at least a week.
5. The residue of maize (tháthera) is used for fuel after taking out the grains, in the case of shortage.
6. During flooding, people usually buy small boxes (200-400 INR or 4-8 CAD) in order to store and save their valuables.
7. Almost everyone knows how to swim.
|1. The HHs which have the economic ability would elevate their houses on a small hill of soil. The cost of levelling land for an area of 5mx4m (20sq2) is 100,000 INR (1,980 CAD).
2. Similarly, HHs would make use of cement pillars (introduced in 2012) instead of bamboo ones that are more vulnerable to water (worn-out after 1 year). The cost of one pillar is between 600-700 INR (12-14 CAD) and a regular kátccha house requires 10 pillars.
3. A pond is located in Ujua village and several low-land areas in various places between settlements, as well as behind houses facing the river bank, which get filled up with water from April to September (6 months).
4. The roofs of all kátccha houses are covered with regular, waterproof polythene.
5. 5-7 out of 230 HHs of the landlords own packing materials (sacks, cartons, bags, trunks, etc.) for the relocation of essential goods.
*A kátccha house is made of mud and thatch while a paccá house is made of cement.
The pictures illustrate various flood risk reduction measures in different districts of Bihar: the pictures from Muzzafarpur were taken by Ms Pooja Kulkarni, the ones from Sitamarhi by Mr. Yuvraj Singh Rajput and those from West Champarann by Mr Bipin Kumar Chandra; students from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences undertaking their internship in September 2015. The pictures from Darbhanga were taken by the author in November 2015 during his internship with the NGO Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices in Patna for the needs of a vulnerability assessment of the village of Ujua.
This excerpt is part of the author’s Master dissertation entitled “The Political Economy of Disaster Risk Reduction: Factors that promote and hinder the prevention of disasters and root causes that integrate or exclude Disaster Risk Reduction from the development models of India and Greece”. The dissertation received the best research award for the year 2016. His supervisor was Prof. Janki Andharia, Professor at the Jamsetji Tata School of Disaster Studies in Mumbai, India. The author would like to thank Mr Anindo Banerjee and Mr Sanjay Kumar Paswan from Praxis, as well as Mr Narayan Jee Chaudhary from the NGO Mithila Gram Vikas Parishad, for their immense support and direction, without which the author’s thesis would not have been possible.
Bio: Alex Tsakiridis hails from the domain of Political Science, which he studied in Greece and Denmark. He is a Disaster Risk Management specialist, trained in South Asia with field experience in India and Nepal. Alex Tsakiridis locates his interest in the politics of risk and more specifically in the nexus between development and disasters.
Islam, M. Z. and Rahmani, A. R. (2008) Potential and Existing Ramsar Sites in India, IBCN: BNHS, Oxford University Press.
Jha, V. (2015) Indigenous methods of livelihood management in a flood prone region – a case study of Kusheshwarasthan area in Darbhanga district of north Bihar, Bioglobia, Vol. 2(1).
Jha, V.; Verma, S. K.; Mishra A.; Ghosh, T K. (2011) North Bihar wetlands: potential sites for ecotourism, in Pathak, A. S. (ed) UDYAM, Mithilanchal Industrial Chamber of Commerce, Darbhanga.
Kumar, V.; Kumar, R.; Kumar, R.; Vimal, B. K.; Kumar, M (2013) Assessment of Diara land under Bhagalpur district using remote sensing and GIS tools, Journal of Applied and Natural Science 5 (1): 213-216.
National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Water Use Potential of Flood-affected and Drought-prone Areas of Eastern India (2013) Policy Paper 60, New Delhi.
Singh, R. V. (2000) The Vanishing Lakes, Down to Earth, Accessed the 09/02/2016 on
 A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated of international important under the Ramsar Convention. The Convention on Wetlands, established in 1971 by UNESCO, provides for national actions and international cooperation regarding the conservation of wetlands, and wise sustainable use of their resources.