Assam’s curse — Its annual floods
Floods ravage Assam, with no remorseAlmost the entire north and north-east of India reeled under heavy flood for weeks. Happily for the people, who bore the brunt of Nature’s fury, the floods have ebbed considerably. This has come about because the discharge from the melting of the glaciers at the areas of origin has slowed considerably due to a fall in temperature. People in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya will now heave a sigh of relief.
However, nearly 15 lakh people in 16 districts of Assam are still fighting flood waters because the Brahmaputra and its tributaries continue to be in spate. As many as 2.46 lakh people are in relief camps waiting for the waters to recede. Thanks to the massive relief and rehabilitation works undertaken by the government and other agencies, they have, so far, succeeded in staving off hunger and disease.
What is now needed is a plan that could help these marooned people to go back to their villages and restart their lives. Rehabilitating them with minimum of disruption of their livelihood should be the mantra of rehabilitation programmes.
Many embankments have been washed away. Some are in too decrepit state. It is essential to build fresh ones where they no longer exist and repair and bolster those that have been severely weakened in the flood. The Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has announced the formation of the Flood and Erosion Protection Authority at a cost of Rs.1,000 crore. This is a laudable initiative and has come at the right time. The Authority will be tasked to design and build long-term anti-erosion measures. Some of the steps it will take include dredging of the tributaries of the Brahmaputra to increase the carrying capacity of the rivers so that they do not swell dangerously. This will, to a large extent, lessen the ferocity of the floods. Additionally, the government of Assam has also proposed the formation of a Brahmaputra Valley River Authority to take various steps to control the menace of flood. This, too, is a welcome initiative, and should be followed through.
Annual floods and the devastation they cause has been a part of Assam’s history. The only take-away from this ordeal is the natural increase in the fertility of the soil through silt formation by the stagnant water. Otherwise, the floods bring untold suffering to the affected people. In the plains of Assam, the perils of the flood take long to go away.
The State’s Economic Survey for 2013-14 revels that the average loss to the State stands at a whopping Rs. 200 crore annually. The figure had mounted to Rs.771 crore in 2004. Nearly 39.58 per cent of Assam’s land mass is prone to the dangers of flood. This is considerably higher than the all-India average figure of 10.2%. In other words, Assam suffers from the scourge of flood four times more extensively than the rest of India. About 16.5 lakh hectares of the State’s farm land and habitation areas are flood-protected. Nearly 9.31 lakh ha remains vulnerable. Aggravating the crisis is the rapidly increasing rate of soil erosion. An estimated 4.27 lakh ha has been lost to soil erosion since 1950. This works out to an alarming figure of loss of 8,000 ha annually. This loss is staggering.
The Brahmaputra and the Barak, along with their 48 major tributaries and innumerable sub-tributaries, have devoured everything that comes their way — roads, bridges, buildings and communication towers, livestock, standing crops etc. According to the State government’s assessment, three out of four embankments in the state have outlived their designed life span. The cumulative total of the length of such aging embankments stands at 4,474 km. The Water Resources Department has submitted a proposal to the Center to revamp these man-made barriers.
Experts working on the problem have advocated use of satellite imagery, use of synthetic materials to withstand water’s tendency to wash away earth, and periodic dredging of the river beds. Assam will continue to reel from its debilitating annual visits of flood if effective steps are not taken to rein in the malaise of flood. ————————————–END————————————–