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Taming the meandering river once and for all is proving to be as difficult as it is essential. Experts talk to The Sunday Express about the need for desilting and channelising the river, afforestation and building strong embankments.
The wayward River of Sorrow has wreaked havoc, affecting over 35 lakh people and posing an engineering challenge that defies quick fixes. As in the course of the river, there are many twists and turns in the process of finding a sustainable solution. In the short run, fixing the breach and controlling the flood should minimise the misery of the affected, but finding a long-term answer to the problem is where the real challenge lies.
Says Neil A. Wells, geology professor at Kent State University and co-author (with University of Michigan's John Dorr) of a 1987 seminal paper on the Kosi's behaviour, "Barring exceptional rains and floods, a fix at the breach site should be perfectly fine for a few years if they do it right, but it won't last forever."
Experts fear that Kosi's new channel, which, as satellite images show, carries more water than the original channel, could well be the river's new course. "Left to its own devices, the Kosi probably wouldn't re-occupy the Sapt Kosi course," says Wells.
So should the river be allowed to flow in the new channel or be brought into the original Sapt channel? "The new channel may take decades to stabilise, till which time the people living in the region will be in danger and may have to relocate constantly," says Professor Nayan Sharma of the Department of Water Resources Development and Management at IIT Roorkee, who has worked on transboundary rivers like Brahmaputra, Mekong and Danube. Sharma is also a member of the high-level committee set up by the Government to suggest a long-term sustainable solution to the Kosi problem. He feels that given the high population density in the region, we cannot allow the infant channel free play. "We must make a serious attempt to bring the river back to the original channel," says the professor.