August 29, 2014
Amid allegations by Pakistan that there is inadequate information from India on transboundary river floods, officials with a key government agency in New Delhi admit there is no flood warning system for Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir state itself
The Central Water Commission under India’s water resources ministry is supposed to warn states against floods but it failed to do so during recent disasters in the Indian state because the system was not in place.
“Flood warning can be issued only when there is an established protocol available between the state government and the Central Water Commission,” the commission’s chairman AB Pandya told the BBC.
“To generate flood warnings, a certain amount of additional works are required…like establishing warning and danger levels and setting river channel hydraulics as well as meteorological mechanisms.
“These were not carried out and we have been in discussion with the Jammu and Kashmir government for quite sometime but it has not been possible to finalise these issues and therefore the system for flood warning has not really been available.”
The Central Water Commission has been criticised in the Indian media for not even having the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir on its website list of states facing flood threats.
The premier technical body of the Indian government’s water resources ministry is mandated to issue flood alerts to states which then issue warnings to their residents.
“In this case, neither the CWC alerted authorities in Jammu and Kashmir nor did the state authorities issue any warning,” says Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP), a regional non-government organisation.
“The website of the flood control and irrigation department of Jammu and Kashmir has not been updated since 2011, such is the sorry state of flood warning in this part of India.”
Mr. Pandya of the CWC said some data of river flows in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir were collected but that was mainly for the Indus Treaty India signed with Pakistan in 1960.
Under the treaty, India is required to provide hydrological data for the transboundary rivers in the Indus basin to Pakistan.
The Chenab, Jhelum, Sutlej, Ravi and Beas rivers in the basin originate in India, while the main Indus river starts from Tibet and flows through the Indian-administered Kashmir into Pakistan.
The recent floods – mainly in the Chenab and Jhelum rivers – claimed more than 450 lives in both India and Pakistan.
Officials in Pakistan say the information received from India did not help in issuing flood warnings.
“To issue flood warnings we need three things: predicted precipitation, actual precipitation and the water flow in the rivers,” said Hazrat Mir, director general of Pakistan’s meteorological department.
“They only provide flow data when water levels in rivers are high, we get no data on precipitation which is very important to determine the danger level of flood,” Mir said.
Pakisani officials also say the hydrological data provided by India are from areas near the border between the two countries and that was also a constraint.
“At present, we get the data from the barrage in Aknoor of India which is quite close to the border and that means we don’t get enough time to prepare,” said Muhammad Riaz, chief of Pakistan’s flood forecasting division.
But Pandya said the Indus treaty provides a sound basis for Pakistan to prepare its flood warning system.
“Since this [treaty] has been going on for around 50 years or so…..we don’t want to suddenly change the protocol and create unforeseen kind of problems.”
The Pakistani government has been widely criticised within the country for not doing what it could on its own despite devastating floods every rainy season in the last few years.
There Pakistani media has criticised the government’s decision to downscale the climate change ministry into a division and shelve the country’s climate change policy which has plans to deal with floods.
Experts say with Pakistan’s flood management in a mess, the missing flood warning system across the border in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir state has made things worse.
“When India’s own Jammu and Kashmir has no flood warning system in place, talking about India helping Pakistan on this front is too far-fetched,” said Mr. Thakkar of SANDRP.
Navin Singh Khadka is an environment reporter with the BBC World Service.
A version of this report was first published by BBC Urdu and Hindi