How much do floods cost India?

By Ankur Nagar

Traffic crawls a month after floods caused landslides and infrastructure damage in Cheruthoni, Kerala. © Deepak Singh/World Bank

The lush, coastal state of Kerala in the southernmost part of India is no stranger to heavy rainfall. The monsoon season brings an average of 2,700 mm of rain to the state¹, which is more than what the Philippines gets annually². This year’s monsoon season, however, wasn’t average.

The monsoons soaked Kerala with above average rainfall for two months, and then delivered an immense spike. In the first 19 days of August, 758 mm of rain poured over Kerala — 164% above normal³. In a few days, more rain fell over this state the size of Switzerland than what falls over the US in a year⁴.

Intense monsoon rainfall over Kerala, August 2018

Data: GPM IMERG “Late run” 7-day precip. accumulation. Cities with population over 1,00,000 are represented as bars.

Kerala was inundated. There were widespread floods and thousands of landslides. The disaster killed over 480 people and affected nearly 5.4 million. A massive response operation was mobilized by the government, civil society, private sector, and local fishermen. Over 260,000 were evacuated and more than 1.4 million were provided shelter in 3,200+ relief camps.

At the request of the Government of India — the Government of Kerala, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank conducted a Joint Rapid Disaster Needs Assessment to quantify the damage and assess the long-term recovery needs. Considering the impact on housing, infrastructure, utilities, livelihoods, health, environment, and cultural heritage — the estimated recovery cost is about US$ 3.5 billion⁵, just for the priority sectors.

This scale of damage from floods is not an outlier for India. The average annual loss from floods in the country is estimated to be US$ 7.4 billion⁶.

Disasters causing damages of over a billion US dollars, 1993–2018

Data: World Bank, EM-DAT: The Emergency Events Database — Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) — CRED. Damage amounts rounded off.

In recent years, extreme rainfall has also caused flash floods in India’s major cities — including in Mumbai (2005), Srinagar (2014), and Chennai (2015). The impact of climate change and rapid, unregulated urban growth has further exacerbated the risk of floods for India’s urban centers⁷.

Building long-term resilience

Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force personnel conduct a flood rescue drill over river Mandakini, which had a devastating flood in 2013. Ankur Nagar/World Bank 

Ten years before the Kerala deluge, on August 18, 2008 the Kosi river broke its embankment and flooded the populous state of Bihar — where one in three people are still in poverty. 493 people died and three million families in the state were affected, many losing their homes and all their assets.

At the government’s request, the World Bank and GFDRR conducted a flood needs assessment and initiated the Bihar Kosi Flood Recovery Project in 2010. This 8-year project helped rebuild houses and critical infrastructure, and also supported the restoration of livelihoods of the affected people.

Highlights from the Bihar Kosi Flood Recovery Project (2010–2018)

To build long-term resilience, this was followed by the ongoing Bihar Kosi Basin Development Project. This project is enhancing the Bihar Water Resources Department’s capacity to manage flood risk. It is also helping farmers in the region to enhance agriculture productivity and improve the market access of their crops.

World Bank’s ongoing flood resilience activities, September 2018

Broad representation of flood prone areas. Please refer to the detailed BMTPC FLood Hazard Map of India. Project data from World Bank. Disclaimer: Country borders or names do not necessarily reflect the World Bank Group’s official position. This map is for illustrative purposes and does not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the World Bank, concerning the legal status of any country or territory or concerning the delimitation of frontiers or boundaries.

Subsequently, when the Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir were hit by devastating floods in 2013 and 2014 respectively — rapid post-disaster needs assessments guided the set up of the Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Project and the Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project.

Highlights from the ongoing Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Project (2013–2019)

These projects are helping the state disaster management authorities to (a) ‘build back better’ and (b) to develop long-term resilience, response, and governance capacities. In addition to these flood resilience projects, GFDRR has also supported cooperation between India’s Central Water Commission and the Japan Water Agency in improving dam safety guidelines for India⁸.

Supporting Kerala’s flood recovery

People survey landslide damage post the recent flood in Kerala. © Deepak Singh/World Bank

For Kerala, the World Bank is looking to extend support to the Government of Kerala’s comprehensive flood recovery efforts and to build greater resilience to future shocks⁹. The support is subject to Government of India’s formal request and approval by the World Bank Board of Governors.

“The framework we have prepared in consultation with the Government of Kerala will help the state with early recovery needs restoring the infrastructure and livelihoods. A very important part of our engagement will be to support the work of state institutions and build on the state-community relationships that exist in Kerala.”
- Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India

The proposed recovery and resilience framework will follow a phased approach. First phase will attempt to address early recovery needs and setting the stage for a resilient recovery. To build resilience to future shocks, the second phase would focus on policy and institution strengthening in the state, taking a long-term view to reduce flood risk in India.

To help Kerala manage financial impacts of future disasters, the framework also defines innovative financial solutions, such as diaspora bonds and insurance, and includes measures to mainstream resilience into sectoral investments.