Topics Covered: Disaster management.
Assam continues to be on the edge because of its flood disaster and this has become an annual calamity. Assam sees major floods every year and every time lives are lost, millions of people get displaced, villages, crops, infrastructure get destroyed.
- This year, almost 85 per cent area of the Kaziranga National Park has submerged.
How bad is the current flood compared to previous ones?
While floods are a regular annual feature in Assam, some years witness more destruction than others. In terms of impact on human lives, the floods of 1988, 1998 and 2004 were the worst; the 2004 floods alone affected 12.4 million people and claimed 251 lives. The current wave of floods has affected 57 lakh people. But experts say that the worst is yet to come.
Why floods are common in Assam?
Brahmaputra is braided and unstable in its entire reach in Assam except for a few places. The main reasons behind the instability of the river are high sedimentation and steep slopes.
High percentage of flood prone region: 31.05 lakh hectares of the total 78.523 lakh hectares area of the state is prone to frequent floods. And the reasons behind this high flood prone area percentage are both man-made and natural.
EARTHQUAKES/LANDSLIDES: Assam and some other parts of the northeastern region are prone to frequent earthquakes, which causes landslides. The landslides and earthquakes send in a lot of debris in the rivers, causing the river bed to rise.
BANK EROSION: Assam has also faced bank erosion around the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers as well as their tributaries. It is estimated that annually nearly 8000 hectares land is lost to erosion. Bank erosion has also affected the width of the Brahmaputra river, which has increased up to 15 km.
DAMS: Among the man-made reasons, the key cause of floods in Assam region is releasing of water from dams situated uphill. Unregulated release of water floods the Assam plains, leaving thousands of people homeless every year.
Guwahati’s topography — it’s shaped like a bowl — does make it susceptible to water logging.
Unplanned expansion of the urban areas has led to severe encroachments in the wetlands, low lying areas, hills and shrinkage of forest cover.
The river also changes course frequently and it’s virtually impossible to contain it within embankments. The pressure of the surging water takes a toll on these walls.
How governments have tried to handle the situation? Where have they failed?
Floods are a recurrent feature during the monsoons in Assam. In fact, ecologists point out that flood waters have historically rejuvenated croplands and fertilised soil in the state’s alluvial areas.
- But it’s also a fact that for more than 60 years, the Centre and state governments have not found ways to contain the toll taken by the raging waters.
The state has primarily relied on embankments to control floods. This flood control measure was introduced in Assam in the early 1950s when the hydrology of most Indian rivers, including the Brahmaputra, was poorly understood.
But, several of the state’s embankments were reportedly breached by the floods this year.
What needs to be done now?
- Studying the river and the impact of climate change is a must to understand why the state gets flooded every year.
- Water flow information shared by China on the Brahmaputra with India, for which India pays a certain amount, should also be shared with the public, as this will help in understanding the river better and therefore help people better prepare for floods.
- More accurate and decentralised forecasts of rain can help in improving preparedness. Weather reports should be made available on district level and should be accessible to public.
Need for these measures:
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 freshwater, which is a constant problem in summer.
Sources: the Hindu.