Early warning: Community interpretations and perceptions - A case of recurrent floods and their warnings in Delhi (India)

Anshu Sharma
SEEDS, 315, Tower 1, Mount Kailash, New Delhi - 110065, India.
Tel. /Fax: +91-11-6283101,
E-mail: seeds@sapta.com

The river Yamuna, one of India’s mightiest rivers, passes through the heart of Delhi, covering a stretch of 25 kilometres through urban Delhi. About 100,000 persons live in the river-bed, and many times more in the shadows of the embankments that have breached on numerous occasions in the past. The city has experienced four major floods in recent years, and the river has crossed its danger mark 25 times in the last 33 years. Flood warnings are issued almost every year.

Though the amount of water flow, and the time of peak flow at Delhi, are known two days in advance, the warning issued to the local residents is a cryptic "water level is expected to rise, make your own arrangements". The reason for such a non information revealing warning is cited as the low understanding level of the community. The warning issued has, over the years come to lose its value, and has led to insensitivity in the community towards disaster warnings.

The author is directing a project on risk reduction in the said community, and his paper looks at the need for proper articulation and translation of warnings to suit local community characteristics, and yet be effective.