10 of India’s most devastating floods

Flood calamities highlight the urgent need for effective disaster management strategies, resilient infrastructure development, and proactive measures to address climate change to mitigate the impact of future floods. Here are some of India’s most catastrophic flooding events, which have wreaked havoc on communities across the nation.

Floods stand as the predominant natural calamity in India, with factors such as climate change and human activities contributing to their increasing occurrence. Let’s examine some of the most devastating floods India has witnessed in recent years.

Gujarat 1979 – Machhu Dam II

The catastrophic failure of the Machhu Dam II on August 11, 1979, led to the town of Morbi being overwhelmed by the full force of the Macchu River. This disaster followed ten days of continuous rainfall, during which the dam’s floodgates, designed to handle 220,000 cusecs of water, were unable to cope with the inflow of 400,000 cusecs. As a result, the earthen dam breached and collapsed. Within just 20 minutes, floods ranging from 12 to 30 feet in height submerged the low-lying areas of Morbi.

Bihar 1987 – Bhote Kosi River

In Bihar, a state in northeastern India known for its vulnerability to floods, the region has endured numerous disastrous monsoon seasons over time. Situated near the Himalayas and the Kosi River system, approximately 76 per cent of Bihar’s population resides in areas constantly at risk of flood devastation, as stated by the state government.

The most severe flood in Bihar’s recent memory occurred in 1987, triggered by a landslide that obstructed the Bhote Kosi River’s flow, resulting in widespread flooding and the destruction of over 1.7 million homes. According to official records, the flooding claimed the lives of 1,399 individuals and 5,302 animals.

1998 Assam Floods

The 1998 Assam Floods are regarded as the most severe since 1950. The Brahmaputra River exceeded its danger level for nearly three months at six major gauge sites along the river. All 21 districts in the Assam valley were inundated, impacting a population of 4.7 million across 5,300 villages and causing damage to 970,000 hectares of agricultural land. Additionally, 30,900 homes were either swept away or damaged, resulting in the loss of 156 lives and 7,814 cattle.

Coastal India 2004 – tsunami

While most floods in India stem from rainfall, the 2004 tsunami stands out as the nation’s most devastating water-related catastrophe. Triggered by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, the tsunami wrought havoc upon southern India. Government reports indicate that 10,749 individuals lost their lives, with 5,640 reported missing, and a staggering 2.79 million people affected by the waves. Moreover, the disaster destroyed 11,827 hectares of crops and disrupted the livelihoods of 300,000 fishermen. The impact was felt along the southern coast of India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Pondicherry, with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands also bearing the brunt of the devastation. Tamil Nadu, where more than 8,000 people perished, bore the brunt of the tragedy as the worst-affected region in the country.

2005 Gujrat Floods

In 2005, heavy rainfall triggered flooding in the western state of Gujarat, claiming the lives of over 131 individuals and displacing more than 175,000 residents. This monsoon-induced disaster affected 20 out of Gujarat’s 33 districts, with 10 of them severely impacted. The flooding submerged over 7,200 villages and affected up to 10,000 people. Approximately 505 millimetres (19.9 inches) of rainfall were recorded, rendering around 176,000 people homeless. Tragically, even a rare Asiatic lion from the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary drowned during the deluge. The flooding resulted in at least 173 fatalities.

Bihar 2008 – Kosi River

On August 18, 2008, the Kosi River breached its embankment, unleashing a torrent of water into Bihar state and neighbouring Nepal. The flood claimed the lives of 527 individuals and 19,323 farm animals, while approximately 222,000 homes were destroyed and 3.3 million people were affected, as reported by the central government.

Reconstruction expenses were projected to reach $1.2 billion, as per a collaborative report by the state government, the World Bank, and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

2010 Ladakh Floods

In August 6, 2010, Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir experienced severe flooding due to a significant cloudburst and intense rainfall. This event led to mudslides, flash floods, and debris flow in the region. Approximately 71 towns and villages in Leh were impacted, resulting in the loss of at least 255 lives.

2012 Assam Floods

In 2012, Assam experienced severe flooding once more as the Brahmaputra River surged due to heavy monsoon rains. This unprecedented flood event resulted in the loss of 124 human lives. Particularly affected was the Kaziranga National Park, where 13 endangered Indian rhinos and approximately 500 other animals perished due to the flooding.

Uttarakhand 2013 – rainfall

In June 2013, India experienced its most severe weather-related flood in recent memory, as heavy rainfall over several days triggered flash floods and landslides in the northern state of Uttarakhand. The catastrophic event occurred during the peak tourist season in Uttarakhand, drawing hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims to the region to visit its ancient temples. The rainfall occurred a month before the onset of the monsoon season, catching many off guard.

According to government reports, an estimated 4,094 individuals lost their lives, and nearly 1 million people were affected by the disaster in Uttarakhand and neighboring Himachal Pradesh.

2018 Kerala Floods

In 2018, Kerala experienced its most severe flooding since 1924, caused by unprecedented heavy rainfall. The floods resulted in the deaths of over 400 individuals and the displacement of one million residents. According to reports, 489 people lost their lives, 15 were reported missing, and 140 were hospitalized. Additionally, 33,000 people were rescued. In response to the intense flooding, the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority issued a red alert for the state.

Floods have remained a persistent and devastating natural calamity in India, exacerbated by factors such as climate change and human activities. Over the past few decades, numerous regions across the country have witnessed catastrophic flooding events, resulting in loss of lives, displacement of millions, and extensive damage to infrastructure and livelihoods.