EVENT IS POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
Embankments became the dominant flood mitigation policy in India from the 1950s. In this paper we analyse flood-related death and economic data to test the effectiveness of this policy. Between 1953 and 2011 damage has increased but deaths have remained unchanged. However, deaths during the period from 1982 to 2011, when embankments were much more extensive, declined along with the area affected by floods thereby confounding an explanation. Damage from 1953 to 1981 increased, though there was no trend in damage from 1982 to 2011. In Assam, a particularly flood-prone state, neither damage nor deaths showed a trend between 1956 and 2011, a conclusion that also applies to deaths between 1982 and 2006, but damage declined. Fluctuations through time in deaths and damage in Assam vary with the flooded area that correlates with the peak annual flow at gauging stations on the Brahmaputra River. Despite extensive embankments, large floods cause most death and damage, a conclusion consistent with the ‘levee effect’ whereby embankments induce complacency and dangerous behaviour. However, embankments provide refuges for people and their animals during the largest floods. Flood mitigation policies that compliment embankments are urgently needed to mitigate the impacts of the largest floods.