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Assam Floods Tackling the Deluge (21 July 2020)

Assam Floods: Tackling the Deluge (21 July 2020)

Context

The flood situation in Assam continues to threaten life and property with around 40 lakh people estimated to be affected by floods in 27 of the state’s 33 districts.

Background:

  • Over 3,000 villages are currently inundated and 1.3 lakh hectares worth of crops are estimated to have been damaged
  • The inundation has so far claimed the lives of over 80 people.
  • The state’s wildlife sanctuaries, including the Kaziranga National Park, have also been severely hit where over 75 animals have died.

Summary of the Debate

Geographical factors for Assam flooding

  • Assam has a curious case of recurrent flooding. Every year it sees a devastating flood.
  • The Brahmaputra is one of the largest river systems in the world and Assam lies in its downstream part.
    • This huge river begins from the Tibet plateau, where the temperature is rising every year by 0.42 percent. This is melting the glacier in the region which subsequently increasing the flow of water into the downstream part of the river.
    • Not the only Brahmaputra, but its tributaries are very large and got swollen in the monsoon season
    • The direction of the Brahmaputra River entering into the Assam also causes large floods in the area.
  • Siltation problem: Assam has been practicing the Jhum cultivation for a long time which removes the protection from the rain and the soil. Due to this, with every flush of the rain, a large amount of soil and dead materials of the plant flow into the river basin.
    • The rivers in the region are rich in silt and because of this silt, the water cut the river margins during the flood.
    • The deposition of silt and dead materials of the plant increases the devastation.

Climatic and Environmental Factor

  • d40d7cd7-436e-463a-97aa-52f9c58b157d_c7d8e25c-731b-4112-a586-ebdc289c1f1f.jpgAssam represents a very special situation from the climate point of view. Assam has a climate which is of rainforest type that is rainfall is predominant there.
  • Incessant Rain: Assam is noticing the change in rainfall pattern. Now the periodicity of rainfall has gone reduced and the intensity of the rain is increased, which led to the incessant rain in the area.
  • The climate models also suggested that Assam is going to have more rain than the usual pattern.
    • This flash of the large of amount of rain in a small period of time is creating floods in the area.
    • Every year, three to four flashes of rainfall are bringing floods.

Socio Economic Factor

  • Assam flood primarily is an anthropogenic problem, which is compounded by the human and socio-economic factors in the region.
  • Human settlements: The people of the state and especially the immigrants have been encroached from the flood plains of the river.
    • The constructions are obstructing the natural flow of the water in the flood area.
    • The immigrants are building new kind of houses/buildings which does not suit the topologies required for the riverine ecosystem.
  • Wetlands: Large number of migrated people has occupied the wetlands which are water accumulators and helps in controlling the flood. These are now used for settlement, agriculture, road networks, and industrialization.
  • Infrastructure: There is a major highway almost parallel to the river and connecting all the major cities and also the railway lines which actually hinders the movement of water.
  • Almost all the power stations are somehow connected to the water system and when the flood comes in this area, the whole electrical infrastructure breaks down. It impacted the hospital functioning and water supply functioning.
  • Dams on the rivers are also becoming a contributory factors of discharging huge water during the rainfall. There are no coordination between the agencies in the upper catchment areas and the utilization areas.

Floods in Kaziranga Ecosystem

  • Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) is sandwiched between the Brahmaputra River and the KarbiAnglong Hills. The entire area is formed by alluvial deposits from the Brahmaputra and its tributaries.
  • The floods are necessary for Kaziranga by virtue of its riverine ecosystem.
  • The regenerative nature of floods helps replenish Kaziranga’s water bodies and maintain its landscape, which is a mix of wetlands, grasslands and semi-evergreen deciduous forests.
  • The floodwaters function as a breeding ground for fish, which are carried away by the receding waters into the Brahmaputra. i.e the Kaziranga’s floods replenishes the Brahmaputra’s stock of fish.
  • The waters also help get rid of unwanted plants such as water hyacinth which collect in huge masses in the landscape.

Solutions and way forward

  • We need to evolve effective water management policy and flood zone regulations for the flood plains areas.
  • We need flood moderation projects in the upper catchment areas.
  • Issue of Rehabilitation: Through Scientific mapping and proper information database the settlements should be allocated and the encroachment in the flood plain should be avoided. Human habitation should not obstruct the riverine ecosystem.
  • Wetlands are important so those must be rebuilt or the encroachment on them should reduce.
  • Use nature itself as a solution to protect the vegetation and rejuvenate the depleted areas with more water.
  • Early warning system: We cannot stop raining or climate change so we need to learn to live with these conditions by using technology to predict the intensity and scale of flood causing rainfall.

Conclusion

The flood problem is not going to go ways with anytime soon and it is only going to get aggravated in the days and years to come. Floods are required and are natural process but excessive flooding is the problem. We cannot work against the water so we need to work with it.

Main Points Made by the Guests

1. R. R. Rashmi, Programme Director, Earth Science & Climate Change, TERI

  • Assam flood primarily is an anthropogenic problem, which is compounded by the human and socio-economic factors in the region.
  • We cannot stop raining or climate change so we need to learn to live with these conditions by using technology to predict the intensity and scale of flood causing rainfall.

2. Prof. C.K. Varshney, Environmentalist & Former Dean, School of Environment Sciences, JNU

  • Assam has been practicing the Jhum cultivation for a long time which removes the protection from the rain and the soil. Due to this, with every flush of the rain, a large amount of soil and dead materials of the plant flow into the river basin.
  • The rivers in the region are rich in silt and because of this silt, the water cut the river margins during the flood.

3. K. T. Ravindran, Urban Planner

  • A large number of migrated people have occupied the wetlands which are water accumulators and helps in controlling the flood.
  • There is a major highway almost parallel to the river and connecting all the major cities and also railway line which actually hinders the movement of water.

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