In times of a changing climate, water security is a central component of long-term resilience – and dams are vital for safeguarding such security. India, with a population of more than 1 billion people, is home almost 5,000 large dams and 350 more are currently under construction. The country also has several thousand additional small dams. Each plays a part in the nation’s water regulation mechanisms for use across a multitude of economic sectors, including agriculture, energy creation, flood control, and tourism.

As water and dam security has come into focus, the GFDRR-supported Japan-World Bank Program for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries and its implementing arm, the World Bank Disaster Risk Management Hub, Tokyo, have played a central role in the Indian government’s effort to strengthen the country’s dams. With assistance from the World Bank, the government’s Central Water Commission began the Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP), a six-year, US$350-million program to rehabilitate selected dams.

Since DRIP’s inception, one area has come into focus – that of building resilience against seismic risk. Large-scale earthquakes have been recorded in the region each year, and engineers and policymakers saw that inspection, reporting, and updates in this area are critical needs. Many of dams in India face operational and monitoring weaknesses, and need to establish disaster-resilient operation and maintenance procedures. These conditions affect the safety of the structures and pose risks to life and properties of people downstream of the dams.

List of recent large earthquakes in the Region

Date Location Magnitude
January 2016 Imphal, Manipur, India 6.7 Mw
October 2015 Afghanistan/Pakistan Border 7.5 Mw
April and May 2015 Nepal 7.6 Mw and 7.3 Mw


In response to these challenges, over the past two years, DRIP has coordinated with the DRM Hub, Tokyo, to exchange knowledge and expertise between India and Japan. Dam safety study tours of Japan have been organized to help Indian government officials better understand the work and experiences of the Japan Water Agency (JWA) and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT). In October 2016, JWA conducted a seismic emergency response drill and developed a Post-earthquake Inspection Manual for Ichari Dam in Uttarakhand, India.

This past July, a team of JWA officials, who oversee operations and management of major river-basin dams in Japan, visited India. The JWA team consisted of six engineers who specialize in dam safety, electric and information systems, and mechanical facilities. They worked to evaluate overall dam safety, and drill down to specific seismic-event response systems.

The JWA team of engineers focused the visit on Maithon Dam, in Jharkhand State in eastern India, as a pilot in this seismic resilience project. Maithon Dam is a composite dam, made of both earth and concrete, measuring more than 4,000 meters long with a 360-meter overflow section. Built in 1957, the dam provides irrigation – crucial in rural Jharkhand – as well as serving as a flood-control mechanism. Critically, it also supplies 60,000kW of power from its underground power station, serving as the first of this type of electrification facility in the region. The generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity makes it a central piece of infrastructure for eastern India.

After the visit, and in partnership with Indian colleagues, JWA set out several operational goals for Maithon Dam in the coming months ahead. JWA will prepare a post-seismic event Inspection Manual for Maithon dam for field engineers and operators, as well as the operating authority, the Damodar Valley Corporation. JWA has provided several recommendations:

  • Provide training and guidance on overall dam safety and the DRIP program
  • Review operation and maintenance methods
  • Draft updated guidelines and procedures on protection against seismic risk
  • Perform training exercises at the dam site to test processes during a seismic event
  • Establish a strong communications system on seismic information
  • Perform structural strengthening of dams, including rehabilitation and improvement of spillways, regulators, draw-off, and stilling basins
  • Improve safety instrumentation

The World Bank’s DRIP, in close partnership with the GFDRR-supported DRM Hub, Tokyo, will continue improving the safety and performance of existing dams and strengthening institutional capacity, especially by using new technologies. JWA will continue to strengthen the ties with local agencies, providing technical assistance for developing sustainable earthquake response systems, and improving the resilience of dams across India.