Assam floods: Why does the state face a deluge every year?

Tragedy has struck Assam again in the form of torrential rains and flood as around two lakh people in 20 districts have been affected this year

Assam floods: Why does the state face a deluge every year?

A road is flooded in Assam triggered by incessant rainfall, in Dima Hasao – ANI

Tragedy has struck Assam again in the form of torrential rains and flood as around two lakh people in 20 districts have been affected this year, with the hill district of Dima Hasao getting cut off from the rest of the state after landslides snapped rail and road links.

Around 1,97,248 people have been affected by the deluge, with Hojai and Cachar being the worst hit with 78,157 and 51,357 people affected respectively, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) bulletin said.

Floods are an annual occurrence in the state of Assam and each year it wreaks havoc, let’s see why it happens and what are the solutions:

Why do floods ravage Assam every year?

Almost every year three to four waves of flood ravage the flood-prone areas of Assam.

According to information published by the government of Assam, 31.05 lakh Hectares area is flood prone in the state against the total area of 78.523 lakh Hectares. It is 39.58 per cent of the state and about 9.40 per cent of the entire country.

Records show that the average annual area affected by flood is 9.31 Lakh Hectares. The flood prone area of Assam is four times the national mark of the flood prone area of the country.

Moreover, the flood situation is worsened in Assam as it receives river water from states like Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

Bank erosion caused by the river Brahmaputra is also another major reason behind severe flooding. It causes water to overflow in the low-lying areas every time there is a flood.

As per the Assam government information, during the year 2004 and 2014 the south bank tributaries of Brahmaputra in lower Assam, experienced flash floods of high magnitude due to cloud burst in the catchment areas in Meghalaya.

“During the month of August 2011, due to cloud burst in the catchment area of Arunachal Pradesh the river Gainadi and Jiadhal also experienced flash floods of very high magnitude. These flash floods caused large-scale devastation in vast areas including losses of human lives.”

The disaster is also man-made to an extent in the form of building embankments which started from the 1950s.

Any unplanned construction on or around the river’s natural path is bound to cause disaster.

What are the challenges and solutions?

The Brahmaputra Board in its masterplan on the river in 1982 suggested that dams and reservoirs should be built to mitigate floods.

Dams, however, have been a tricky solution, especially for flood-prone areas. Even as they help regulate the release of flood waters, the release can be beyond the capacity of the channels downstream. The locals and environmentalists have also protested building of dams as it could lead to displacement and destruction of ecology.

Over the years, the government has suspended a number of dam projects.

The government, thus, relied on building embankments on the river, a solution that environmentalists say is only interim and ad-hoc measure for short-term mitigation.

Building embankments alone is not sufficient, steps must also be taken to protect erosion and these need to happen simultaneously.

An embankment without bank protection measures faces the risk of being washed away.

According to The Indian Express, the government also considered dredging, basically digging up the riverbed and making the river “deeper”.

It is another measure that experts have strongly advised against as the Brahmaputra sediment yield is among the highest in the world.

Even if silt is taken out every year, more will be deposited the following year, making the entire expensive process futile.

The governments have been accused of not addressing the problem at the source.

As per The Indian Express report, which quotes retired Gauhati University professor Dulal Chandra Goswami, 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 isn’t the solution — one needs the countries to come to an understanding about taking measures in the catchment areas,” Goswamy said.

Flood-plain zoning is another important exercise, under which areas are divided based on the vulnerability, and accordingly certain activities are banned on it like farming, building houses etc.
Borgohain suggested “flood-plain” zoning, which is done the US. “Depending on the vulnerability o

With inputs from agencies

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