Assam, the second largest state in the Northeast part of India known for its rich wildlife and tea plantations, is also home to a vast network of rivers. The state’s river network includes two major rivers, the Brahmaputra and the Barak, and over 50 of their tributaries. The abundant supply of water, though usually a boon, puts Assam at increased risk of floods, erosion, and sometimes even landslides. The floods during the monsoon season have become an annual event in Assam. According to an assessment by the Rashtriya Barh Aayog (RBA) or National Flood Commission, Assam alone accounts for 9.40% of the country’s total flood-prone area. The extent of damage caused by these floods runs into crores of rupees every year, and this year Assam was hit by another such flood which is one of the worst in recent decades.
The Assam floods this year and subsequent landslides have wreaked havoc on the entire state. Moreover, even after almost two months of hardships, the situation remains grim. At its peak, the flood-impacted almost each of the 35 districts of Assam and around half-crore people. As per the Assam State Disaster Management Authority flood report, over 9.8 lakh people and 20 districts of Assam still remain affected. The worst affected districts include Nagaon, Kamrup, and Dhubri. The death toll continues to increase every day and has now reached 186. Though there has been a slight improvement in the Brahmaputra valley recently, many rivers are still above the danger level. Every facet of life, including livelihood, transportation, agriculture, and communication, has been tremendously affected. The rivers are causing mayhem, eroding the riverbanks, and destroying everything that comes into their paths. In some other regions, the flood situation was worsened by the release of Kurishu Dam water by the Bhutan government. Furthermore, an incident came about people knowingly breaching the embankment on the Barak river in the Cachar district. The people involved were allegedly trying to drain out extra water into the Barak river. The overflowing of the Barak river caused huge damage and the situation in Barak valley is still grim.
The people affected due to the floods have been forced to live in makeshift boats. The locals have even lost the sources of drinking water which are submerged due to the flood. The Assam flood has not only affected humans but animals too. Over 2 lakh animals have been impacted by this year’s flood. The Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve suffered a huge loss of wildlife this year as its major portion submerged during the flood.
There are various reasons behind the plight of Assam. Heavy rainfall and excess water in the water bodies remain the primary reasons behind the flooding. Furthermore, the rainfall sometimes coincides with the glacial melts in the upper areas and cloud bursts in the neighboring states which worsen the situation. various other reasons make the situation worse in Assam. The lack of proper embankments is one such cause. For example, Dibrugarh in Assam has embankments that protect it from the excessive flow of water. However, a small village near Dibrugarh called Patra Gaon does not have the same kind of infrastructure which results in massive destruction in this village. Additionally, mismanagement of dams in the upper areas remains an issue of contention. The unnecessary release of dam water during heavy rainfall season by dams in Bhutan and China floods the entire low-lying areas in Assam. Moreover, human encroachment on the river banks also deteriorates the situation. With the increase in population and migration, people are forced to live around the rivers, putting them at increased risk during the monsoon season. Furthermore, activities like deforestation and hill cutting disturb the natural balance and increase flood-related hazards.
The people of Assam are still living in hardships and are waiting for these tough times to get over. Both the central government and the state government of Assam are working closely to provide to tackle the flood situation. The union government released a fund of 324 crore rupees for the Assam flood-hit areas from the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF). There were 295 relief camps set up by the state government which is currently providing food and shelter to over 1.3 lakh people. In addition to that, the government also established 70 relief distribution centers for providing basic necessities in the affected areas. Both army and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed in Assam to evacuate and assist people impacted by the flood. The state government also pledged to provide Rs. 3800 to every family currently living in the relief camps. A separate fund was also allocated for infrastructural reconstruction. Organizations and people from all walks of life have come forward to contribute to the Assam flood relief funds.
There have been constant efforts to improve the situation in Assam and bring back life to normalcy. However, a lot more still needs to be done. The government and people need to take long-term measures to avoid such disasters in the future. The building of better embankments and flood control walls will help control the excessive flow of water and subsequent land erosion. Flood forecasting and warning systems need to be more efficient and easily accessible to every citizen to be better prepared for any upcoming calamity. Government should also keep a constant check on deforestation and hill cutting and punish the offenders. The settlements on the banks of rivers should be regulated and if possible relocated to safer areas.
The floods in Assam cause a wide range of socio-economic disturbances. Moreover, due to the high frequency and devastating effects of floods every year, disaster management in Assam requires more attention. While we cannot control the natural causes behind these disasters, we can most certainly strengthen the hazard coping mechanisms in place for the unhindered development of highly flood-affected areas.
Research Intern at CPRG