Understanding Assam Floods And What Can Be Done

Every year Assam and other neighboring regions are flooded. Lakhs of people affected, along with a huge loss of crops and property. And not to forget that the area is home to many national parks and sanctuaries and animals are equally impacted.

The annual Assam Floods.
Image by- dnaindia.com

But why is Assam facing floods each year? And how has the scale increased from the past few years? I was curious to know why it really happens and why is it not being controlled. So, I read some articles, compiled this information, and tried to make it easy to understand. I have mentioned the sources at the end of the page for your reference.

Let’s not neglect our beautiful Assam and try to learn about some facts and see what can be done.

Natural Causes-

The Brahmaputra River flowing through Assam
Image by- nenow.in
  • Assam is the land of two mighty rivers – Brahmaputra and Barak. Each year these two rivers and their tributaries cause floods in vast areas of Assam which leads to human misery and devastation of nature
  • Assam lies in the heart of monsoon belt and so gets overburdened with rainfall every rainy season. Due to this, the rivers along with its tributaries get flooded and their banks overflow flooding the vast plain of the state.
  • The existence of long ranges of mountains on its northern and eastern boundaries compels the water to flow down into the vast plain causing the rivers to swell.
  • Thirdly, every year due to heavy natural (due to earthquakes) as well as artificial land sliding, Assam loses hundreds of kilometers of its land area. This soil erosion makes the river shallow (as the riverbed rises), which later helps in the creation of a heavy flood.

Human-made Causes-

The dams are doing more damage than good.
image by- setinelassam.com
  • While natural topography and excessive rainfall are obvious causes, floods are also caused by human intervention—like encroachment of river banks and wetlands, lack of drainage, unplanned urban growth, hill cutting, and deforestation.
  • The Brahmaputra is the largest water carrying river in India and the second-largest silt carrying river in the world. But the way we deal with rivers is further accentuating the disaster faced by the region,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People (SANDRP).
  • The dams that are being built are further creating disasters. Unregulated release of water floods the Assam plains, leaving thousands of people homeless every year.
  • The wetlands forests and local water bodies are being systematically destroyed which in turn is adding to the disaster vulnerability of the area.
  • Assam is home to more than 3,000 wetlands and many varieties of flora and fauna. “Wetlands, locally known as beels, act as reservoirs and rejuvenating them before monsoon can help in mitigating flood in parts of the state,” said Dulal Chandra Goswami, former head of the department of environmental science at Guwahati University.
  • As per Brahmaputra Board, Deforestation in Assam and its neighboring states have accelerated the process of land erosion.
  • Floods happen due to a breach of embankments. More than 80% of these embankments have not been reinforced in several decades because there is a huge contractor-administration nexus that benefits monetarily from a flood situation-said Kishalay Bhattacharjee, professor and commentator on the northeastern region.

Climate Change

Rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers
Image by- The New York Times
  • “Climate change will result in more frequent and severe floods, which will increase the costs of reconstruction and maintenance on state infrastructure, including roads, irrigation, water, and sanitation,” says the report on climate change published by the Assam government.
  • According to the study, by 2050, the average annual runoff of the river Brahmaputra will decline by 14 percent. However, there is a risk of glaciers melting, leading to flash floods.
  • As the economy of Assam is largely dependent on natural resources, what happens with agriculture and forests has direct effects on the livelihood of its people. During floods, water becomes contaminated, and climate change has a direct impact on the water resources sector by increasing the scarcity of fresh water, which is a constant problem in summer.
  •  Heavier rainfall replacing continuous low or normal rainfall during monsoon might lead to flash floods in low-lying areas. This will also reduce the groundwater recharge.

Impact

The damage to people, crops, their houses, animals due to the floods is unimaginable every year.
Image by – Gulf News
  • The destruction of properties and loss of life is visible every passing year.
  • Lakhs are rendered homeless, standing crops are damaged and roads and communication links are interrupted
  • Humungous effect on the economic condition of the people and the state every year.
  • Some of the worst affected areas include the MSME sector, tea industry, wildlife, and biodiversity of Assam.
  • An increase in rhino poaching during floods is one of the alarming factors for the decline of the rhino population in Assam.
  • The floods also increase the spread of water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid, dysentery, etc.

What the government has done

Brahmaputra Dredging Project
Image by -Government of Assam
  •  The chief flood control measure has been the construction of embankments along the banks of rivers in the affected areas.
  • In recent years, India signed a treaty with China in which the latter has agreed to provide hydrological data of the river Brahmaputra during monsoon.
  • The State government announced that as many as five dredgers ( dredging is basically digging up the riverbed and making the river “deeper”) will be used to deepen the Brahmaputra, and the harvested silt will be used to construct the 725-km Brahmaputra Expressway along both banks of the river. 

What is going wrong

Brahmaputra breaches the Embankments.
Image by- Pratidin Time
  • Most embankments on the Brahmaputra river were built in the 1980s are not strong enough. Since they were temporary measures, the government did not spend on high-specification embankments. These are weak and are regularly breached.
  • The short-term measures on which flood management in the State presently depends, such as rebuilding the breached embankments, are largely inadequate.
  • On the government’s decision of considering dredging, experts have strongly advised against this simply because the Brahmaputra sediment yield is among the highest in the world. Experts believe that even if we take out all the silt this year, more silt will be deposited the following year, making the very expensive effort futile.

What should be done

Netherlands’ Room for the River project for flood prevention
Image by- aeropicture.nl

Although it is not possible to flood-proof all of Assam, several measures should be undertaken for a long-term solution.

  • The first step should be permanently shifting the population from flood plains to higher altitudes to save the human, agriculture and property loss.
  • Embankments should be constructed away from the rivers so that the free-flowing state of the river is maintained.
  • Constructing reservoirs to hold water during monsoon is one way to reduce floods
  • Increasing forest cover by afforestation
  • Countries like the Netherlands practice “room for the river” where wetlands were rejuvenated which work as flood cushions. Assam has around 3500 wetlands, if we rejuvenate them they can act as flood cushions.
  • The establishment of river valley projects, etc. may reduce the problem considered in the long run.
  • Weather reports should be made available on the district level and should be accessible to the public,” says Mr. Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People. “Information should be available in local languages. With the forecast in, one can calculate how much more water will flow downstream, thereby alerting people in advance to evacuate. 
  • Certain areas should be reserved for water retention to level off the peaks during extreme floods.
  • “Flood-plain” zoning is also suggested, which is done in the US. Depending on the vulnerability of the area, you divide them into categories and accordingly ban certain activities on it: like farming, building a house, etc.
  • There needs to be “a basin-wide approach” to the problem. An “integrated basin management” system should ideally bring in all the basin-sharing countries on board.
  • “Addressing the issues only in Assam when the flood strikes aren’t the solution — one needs the countries to come to an understanding about taking measures in the catchment areas.”- said the expert Dr. Goswami.

I have tried to collect information from legitimate and reliable sources. Comment down and let me know if you find any discrepancies. Feel free to share your views on this matter.

Sources- IndiaToday, LiveMint , YouthKiAwaaz , The Hindu

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