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Before The Waters Rise


Intense rainfall and flooding have been documented across various north Indian states in recent months, shedding light on a concerning situation. Although India has established a robust early warning system (EWS) for cyclones, there are significant deficiencies in our capacity to issue flood alerts. As we confront the rising challenges of climate extremes, EWS are becoming an indispensable instrument for mitigating disaster risks.


GS3- Disaster Management

Mains Question:

Early Warning Systems are becoming an indispensable instrument for mitigating disaster risks. Analysing the current performance of EWS in cyclone management in India, highlight what more can be done in this regard? (15 marks, 250 words).

Status of population affected by extreme disasters:

  • A recent study conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water has observed that although the entire population residing in cyclone-prone regions of India is covered by EWS, only 33% of those living in flood-prone areas have access to such systems.
  • India has faced more than 300 extreme climate events in the past two decades, and this means that 66% of the Indian population is vulnerable to severe floods, which equates to two out of every three Indians.

Significance of Early Warning Systems (EWS):

  • Recent years have seen EWS prove highly effective, leading to successful evacuations and a decrease in the loss of life during events such as Cyclone Phailin, Cyclone Fani, and the most recent one, Cyclone Biparjoy.
  • The success of these cyclone EWS can be attributed to three key factors:
    • extensive coverage of cyclone-prone regions,
    • investments in advanced technology for accurate storm predictions,
    • and widespread dissemination of warnings to enable early actions.
  • EWS plays a crucial role in reducing both human casualties and economic losses resulting from extreme weather events by alerting communities at risk in a timely manner. The Central Water Commission has established 331 flood monitoring stations and issues around 10,000 flood forecasts annually.

To enhance the effectiveness of cyclone EWS, the following measures should be implemented:

State governments must prioritize investments in regional, real-time flood monitoring microsensors. These sensors enable accurate and real-time data collection, which can assist the Central Water Commission (CWC) in enhancing the precision and specificity of flood forecasts.Karnataka State Natural Disaster Management Centre has already installed 132 water-level sensors in flood-prone areas to implement technology-driven solutions for urban flooding.
Indian government should ensure active community involvement as it scales up multi-hazard early warning systems for floods. Multi-hazard early warning systems have the capability to alert about multiple hazards, increasing the efficiency and consistency of warnings. By engaging communities in these systems, last-mile connectivity and efficient information dissemination can be achieved.A study conducted in Nepal indicates that the benefit-cost ratio for investing in community-based flood EWS ranges from 24 to 73 for every Nepalese rupee spent, making it a worthwhile endeavor.
The government should actively promote collaborations with the private sector to leverage state-of-the-art technology.States like Assam, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu have set commendable examples in this regard. Public-private partnerships can stimulate innovation and the scaling of technological solutions for disaster risk reduction.
Funds should be directed towards making flood early warnings more impact-based. A more integrated effort to channel funds into building robust systems that can accurately forecast floods at least 48-72 hours before the event occurs will provide sufficient time to evacuate people to safety.To bolster flood preparedness and mitigate its impacts, a significant portion of the proposed Rs 15,000 crore fund for the Flood Management and Border Area Programme in India should be allocated to the development of impact-based flood early warning systems.


India has been a leader in advocating early warnings for cyclones. Now, it must take the lead in championing impact-based, people-centric, multi-hazard early warning systems for floods.

February 2024