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Flood Early Warning System

Early Warning
“The set of capacities needed to generate and disseminate timely and meaningful warning information to enable individuals, communities and organizations threatened by a hazard to prepare and to act appropriately and in sufficient time to reduce the possibility of harm or loss” (UNISDR,2009)

Background of the initiative
Flood is an annual event in the State of Assam. More than 40 percent of its land surface is susceptible to flood damage.

The Brahmaputra valley had experienced major floods in 1954, 1962, 1966, 1972, 1974, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2007 which clearly shows that floods are an annual event in the State. This affects a large section of the people of the riverine areas leaving them to cope with their annual losses. In spite of suffering from annual flood events, a system of early warning mechanisms for alerting the concerned districts/circles/villages from the occurrence of flood was not in existence. The Central Water Commission (CWC) under the Ministry of Water Resources issues flood forecasts and warnings. However, CWC gives the water level of only the major rivers of the State which does not indicate the areas/villages where the flooding would occur and leaves the administrative machinery clueless as to which village or revenue circle should be warned /evacuated. The government felt an inadequacy in the early warning system and therefore consulted different stakeholders to find a solution to the problem. After series of meeting with different stakeholders, the North Eastern Space Application System (NESAC) took the responsibility for developing a model of flood forecasting and issue early warnings. Initially, the Flood Early Warning System was exercised for two districts of Assam. But due to its uniqueness, the project now covers 14 districts of Assam.

Date of Implementation of the Initiative
FLEWS project was implemented on a pilot basis in one district of Assam during the year of 2009.
In the year 2010 it was extended to 4 (four) more districts of Assam. In the year 2010 & 2011 the project was further extended to 3 districts in the Barak valley and 4 districts in Upper and Lower Assam due to the increasing demand from district administration.

The total coverage, therefore, as of till now is 14 nos. of districts.

Purpose & Priorities of the Initiative
The main purpose of the initiative was to develop a location specific early warning system which could help the administration in taking advance precautionary measures and issue flood alerts to those specific areas so that necessary measures can be undertaken by the people. With this purpose the project was initiated keeping in view the following objectives:

  • Issue of alert for possible flood situation in district/Circle level with best possible lead time.
  • Submission of annual periodic report on status of existing embankments.
  • Creating an environment of joint participation among all stakeholders in order to generate actionable product for management of flood in Assam
  • Development of optimum methodology for rainfall prediction from satellite based weather monitoring and numerical weather prediction models supported by in situ ground data.
  • Development of river specific rainfall-runoff models for forecasting of flood.
  • Development of inundation simulation for flood plain zonation

Strategies adopted for bringing about the transformation and positive impact
The first strategy in the establishment of FLEWS is the consideration of the flood prone districts on a basin or catchment. The early warning system has been viewed in the context of a river basin approach where upstream, midstream and downstream activities affect the time of concentration and volume of runoff as reflected in the shape of the hydrograph. Given the fact that most flood prone communities are aware that heavy rainfall intensities upstream may result to flooding in the downstream area, the FLEWS will systematize or enhance the existing coping mechanisms of communities. The second strategy adopted in FLEWS is providing location specific early warning advisory bulletin.

The warnings issued by NESAC provides information about the revenue circles and the probable villages that may be affected due to flood. This information is of great help to the administrative machinery for preparedness and response activity. The flood alert is also disseminated to the community through revenue circle officers and gaon buras.

The third strategy is the involvement of all the stakeholders under FLEWS as without their active participation FLEWS could have never been a success. To keep the stakeholders participation and involvements at an optimum level, stakeholders are continuously engaged in periodic reviews, meetings both at State and District levels.

Success of Flews
Though FLEWS was implemented on a pilot basis in Lakhimpur district during 2009  with only four major rivers, major flood events during July-August, 2009 were forecasted successfully.

 In 2010, FLEWS was taken up in Lakhimpur district in operational phase and other four districts namely, Dhemaji, Barpeta, Baksa and Nalbari were taken up on a pilot basis. Success rate was improved from 25% to about 51%.

With five operational districts, three new Barak valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi were added in pilot scale during the year of 2011 taking the total to 8 districts. Inspite of increasing number of districts, success rate further improved to about 60%. During 2011, most of the flood events were forecasted accurately. Out of 24 flood alerts comprising all 8 districts issued during the flood season of 2011, 19 times(79.16 %) water rise were recorded, 4 times (16.66 %) actual flood inundation took place, Only once (4.16 %) no flooding condition was reported.

With the increasing demand from District Administration of other districts FLEWS was further extended to six more flood prone districts i.e  Sivasagar, Sonitpur, Darrang ,Morigaon, Goalpara and Dhubri districts during 2012, thereby extending the FLEWS project to 14 districts (8 operational+6 pilot). Success rate further improved to about 65%.

The State Government has recognized the benefits of the FLEWS project and as it has proved to be an effective tool for decision making the project is being expanded to cover the entire State of Assam. For effective operationalization of FLEWS in all the flood prone districts of the State special funds are being earmarked from the current year.

Uniqueness of the Project
This methodology of flood warning has probably been tried out for the first time in the country.

The project is an integrated approach to develop Flood Early Warning System. All stakeholders viz. IMD, CWC, NEEPCO, Brahmaputra Board, NESAC are taken into the system.

The FLEWS provides early warning of flood in magnitude (severity), location (revenue circle/group or cluster of villages) and probable time (within 12-24 hours range), high rainfall warning with location and time, pre and post monsoon status of embankment in various flood causing rivers etc.

The alert for possible flood situation in district/revenue circle level is given with lead time of 7-18 hours.

Some of the important milestone the FLEWS project has been able to achieve:

(a) This methodology of flood warning has probably been tried out for the first time in the country.

(b) From a small beginning in only one district of upper Assam in 2009, presently 14 districts are under this project in 2012.

(c) Majority of the significant flood events in the concerned districts under FLEWS has been successfully forecasted with lead time ranging from 7 hrs to 18 hrs.

(d) It has been officially recognized by user department that in spite of being heavy rainfall years, loss of life and property has been reduced from 2009 onward. Warning issued under FLEWS during these situations has been recognized as useful.

(e) This project has been able to bring all line departments such as CWC, IMD, Brahmaputra Board, Assam Water Resources department etc under a single umbrella of joint participation and accountability to achieve a common goal of effective management of flood in Assam. Govt. of Assam is further requesting NESAC to extend FLEWS to all flood prone district of Assam.

(f) Because of the recent success of FLEWS and at the behest of NDMA, New Delhi both Govt. of West Bengal and Bihar has officially communicated with NESAC for technical collaboration for pilot implementation of FLEWS in their respective states.

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