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A Position Paper Prepared for the Bihar Judicial Enquiry into the 2008 Kosi Breach and Floods

A Position Paper Prepared for the Bihar Judicial Enquiry into the 2008 Kosi Breach and Floods

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Published by John A. Rorabacher
The 2008 Kosi floods in Bihar were unique, both in terms of their origin and consequences. This paper, prepared at the request of the State of Bihar's Inquiry into the causes of the floods, examines the historical aspects of flooding in Bihar, their consequences, and the state's inability to adequately deal with them.
The 2008 Kosi floods in Bihar were unique, both in terms of their origin and consequences. This paper, prepared at the request of the State of Bihar's Inquiry into the causes of the floods, examines the historical aspects of flooding in Bihar, their consequences, and the state's inability to adequately deal with them.

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Published by: John A. Rorabacher on May 03, 2009
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07/26/2010

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The August 2008 Breach of the Kosi Afflux Bund andthe Resulting Flood: An Assessment Paper Prepared forthe Bihar Judiciary Enquiry 
Prepared and Respectfully Submitted by 
J. Albert Rorabacher, Ph.D
.
J. Albert Rorabacher 24 February 2009
Page 1 of 31
 
The August 2008 Kosi Afflux
Bund 
Breach and Flood
Abstract
The flooding that resulted from the Kosi Afflux
Bund 
Breach in Nepal, in August 2008,approximately 12 kms upstream from the Bhimnagar Barrage, was unlike that of any flood thathas been associated with the Kosi in more than 60 years. It was unique because of the location of its epicenter and extent. For the first time, an earthen levee, located in Nepal breached, spillingwater into areas that have not experienced Kosi related floods in nearly 100 years. While theimmediate causes of the flood can be attributed to the failure of an engineered structure, theconsequences of the subsequent flood must be apportioned among the engineers, contractors,and politicians responsible for the construction, maintenance, and unrepentant commitment tothe use of earthen levees to affect flood control and protect the citizens of Bihar.
Introduction
Since time immemorial, the rivers of northern Bihar, with their headwaters in Tibet andNepal, have routinely caused extensive flooding in Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Bengal, oftenwith catastrophic consequences. More recently, the nature and scope of the flood patterns havechanged. They have become less frequent, even less predictable but more devastating. It is not achange in either the source of the flood waters or a change in the quantities – although there is variability due to weather and climatic changes in the rivers’ headwaters and catchments. Levees,cofferdams, embankments, or bunds, that have been built along many of the rivers of northernBihar are, first and foremost, the source and cause of these catastrophic floods.
The 2008 Floods – An Overview 
The Kosi Floods of 2008 did not follow their normal pattern. First, breaches in the Kosiembankments typically occur within Bihar. The breach in the Kosi’s
bund 
, locally known as theEastern Afflux
Bund 
or embankment, occurred well inside Nepal, approximately 12 kms north of the Bhimnagar Barrage, near the village of Kusaha.
 
This breach occurred on August 18th. Thefirst signs of the impending breach, however, were observed as early as August 5th. The breachoccurred within a portion of the cofferdam system supposedly controlled and supervised by theengineers of the Bihar government; and according to reports, these on-site representativesignored initial indications preceding the breach. Initially the breach was small but increased tonearly 400 meters during the first day, and just under 2 kilometers within two days.[1] 
J. Albert Rorabacher 24 February 2009
Page 2 of 31
 
An Indian technical team was dispatched to the site of the breach, prior to the flooding of adjacent Sunsari District in Nepal, only to be prevented from reaching the breach, due to disputesbetween the Nepalese and Indian governments’ representatives and local laborers andcontractors. These disputes sabotaged early efforts to stem the tide of the breach.[2] Subsequently, tensions were quelled and repair work was begun but by then, what had been thebeginnings of a minor breach had grown out of control.[3]An on-site observer noted:
If security concerns had been looked into and local cooperation was forthcoming, the tragedy would have been averted 
.[4]
 
In addition, the lack of necessary repair supplies delayed construction and repair work. Anengineer from the Nepalese Department of Water-Induced Disaster Prevention (NDWIDP),stationed at the site criticized the Indian repair efforts, stating:
If more materials are not immediately supplied to the sites, work will cometo a halt, he told the Post. According to him, workers rely on materialsDWIDP of Nepal provide to Indian authorities. We are running out of stock provided by Nepal but the Indian side has not made any arrangement so far, the engineer said 
.[5]
Subsequently, an Indian technical team estimated that the cost of reconstructing thecofferdam would cost approximately Rs. 525
crore
.[6]By late January 2009, the water of the Kosihad returned to normal levels and repairs to the Eastern Afflux
Bund 
were sufficiently completethat the Nepalese and Bihar governments announced:
The Saptakosi river in eastern Nepal near the Indian border has been put back on its original course after repair works in the cofferdams has beencompleted, according to Water Resources Ministry officials here.India and Nepal came together to complete the work of repairing theembankment of Kosi river, which breached and triggered massive floods inthe bordering areas of the two countries.[7]
Second, the breach permitted the Kosi to return to long abandoned channels, especially theso-called Supal Channel, as well as the Sursar, Mirchaiya and Belhi, 75 - 100 kilometers to the eastof its modern channel. See Illustration 1, and Maps 1 and 2, below. The breach returned waterflow to the channels that the Kosi had occupied 85 to 100 years ago, traversing the Districts of Supal, Madhepura, Naugachia Subdivision of Bhagalpur and Banka, the western portions of Araria and Purnia districts, and the eastern portions of Saharas and Khagaria districts. Thesedistricts had not experienced what could be called
extraordinary
flooding in many years.An estimated 80 percent of the Kosi’s flow was diverted through the breach from the channel
J. Albert Rorabacher 24 February 2009
Page 3 of 31

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