Floods in Assam have become an annual affair and result in massive destruction every year. Almost every year we hear about floods in Assam just as we hear about heat waves in North India or monsoon breaking in Kerala. This year too floods have severely affected parts of Assam. Initial flooding started in May 2020 due to heavy rainfall affecting 30,000 people and destroying crops across 5 districts. In July floods have affected around 2 to 3 million people in 27 districts claiming lives of more than 60 people. Out of 27 districts across Assam 15 districts namely Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Morigaon, South Sakmara, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Darrang, Nalbari, Kamrup (Metro), Kamrup (Rural), Nagaon, Golaghat, Majuli, Bongaigaon are worst hit. Over 113 people have also died due to landslides.
The primary reason for the flood in Assam is the river Brahmaputra - one of the largest rivers in India and its tributaries. It divides the state of Assam in 2 parts and also carries a large number of sediments especially during the monsoons. River Brahmaputra originates from the Himalayas before making its way across India. Glaciers are melting at an alarming rate due to the global warming that further intensifies the floods resulting in the devastating situation in the state. Several major rivers including the Brahmaputra and its tributaries are flowing above the danger level. A total of 3,371 villages and 1.28 lakh hectares of cropland have been impacted so far.
Kaziranga National Park Flooded
Kaziranga National Park (UNESCO World Heritage site) houses one of the largest populations of the one-horned rhinos. Every year floods affect the wildlife park leaving animals to seek shelter in the highlands or in surrounding villages. As per the reports 95 percent of the national park’s area is now flooded with animals seeking shelter in the nearby villages. A total of 99 national park anti-poaching camps are still underwater while six of them have been shifted. 66 animals have died due to the floods so far. The number of animal deaths has been alarming. In earlier times animals used to move to elevated grounds during flood but due to the increasing volume of flood every year the water now reaches even higher parts of the parks that has led to the increased number of deaths.
According to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) 517 relief camps have been opened across 24 districts. A total of 44,108 people are taking refuge in the relief camps so far. To control the flooding the state government is also creating embankments. Dredging – a method that deepens the basin is also being done to provide temporary relief.
While floods are an act of god, destruction by floods is not a natural phenomenon. It is mostly due to human intervention, the faulty paradigm of what we call “Development” like deforestation in the catchment area, constructing human habitation on the river banks and in the floodplains area, encroachment on wetlands and changing cropping patterns. Let us have a look at the major reasons for the floods in detail.
Urbanization: In the name of growth and development, concrete jungles are being constructed on the floodplain. Floodplain is an area adjacent to the river that holds sediments and flood water. Due to all this a large area of forests is being cut down. In the process of urbanization, wetlands are also getting destroyed. Such wetlands are connected to the Brahmaputra river and its tributaries that hold excess water during the times of flood and prevent the water from entering into the residential areas thus saving us from the devastating floods.
Embankments: There are around 450 embankments built along various rivers in Assam of which 180 have been breached. Embankments are structures built along the river to prevent the area from flooding but improper construction leads to severe problems like in Assam. Embankment needs to be cleaned at regular intervals. If these embankments are not cleaned up regularly, the level of water increases and water tends to flow outside the embankments subsequently leading to the flood-like situation.
Natural calamities Natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides also lead to floods. The unregulated release of water from dams is also one of the causes of floods. And that’s not all, hill cutting projects are also responsible for the disaster.
In recent years flood has been an annual phenomenon killing lakhs of people, displacing thousands of animals from their homes. Recurrent flooding also causes residential disturbances. If proper actions are not taken then floods might become more intense. A few approaches that can be implemented to tackle flood-like situations is an integrated approach by using practical solutions, banning construction on floodplains, regular cleaning of embankments and banning concrete jungles on wetlands.
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