Assam Floods Demystified

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Flood fury has unleashed once more in the agrarian state of Assam but again this has now become an annual feature which the people of the state have been living with time immemorial. Every year during the successive waves of floods, most of the areas in the valley of this state remain submerged for a considerable number of days causing widespread damages to crops, public & private properties, disruption of vital communication link within the State, with neighboring States and also with the rest of the country. In this article, I have tried to shed some light on the various causes and impacts of The Assam floods on the socio-economic life of the state residents.

Causes of Flood in Assam
Why Are Floods So Destructive in Assam?
Apart from incessant rainfall during the monsoon, there are many contributory factors, natural and man-made. At the crux is the very nature of the river Brahmaputra —dynamic and unstable. Its 580,000 sq km basin spreads over four countries: China, India, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, with diverse environments. Some of the causes of the unparalleled destructivity of the Assam floods are as follows-

1. Drainage Congestion
High stages of the Brahmaputra river over prolonged periods obstruct the free discharge of tributaries causing backflow and congestion near outfalls.  The restricted waterway of road and railway bridges and culverts obstruct the natural flow of water.  Drainage congestion due to the building of railway bridges, roads, and culverts have restricted the natural flow of waters, forcing it to backflow and break embankments in vulnerable areas and lack of countryside drainage through the construction of sluices at critical points have also added to drainage congestion.

2. Excessive Rainfall

Between Brahmaputra valley and the North East Hills, the average rainfall during monsoons varies between 2,480 mm to 6,350 mm, respectively. Due to excess rainfall, water gushes towards lower parts of Assam, eating away the relatively soft edges of the land.

3.Seismicity and Landslides

 Brahmaputra Valley is subjected to frequent tectonic activity. The valley falls under Zone V, which is a high-risk zone. Moreover, excessive sediment charge causes rivers to change course frequently. The carrying capacity is reduced thereby river either spills its banks or erodes. 

4. Human Encroachment of Riverine Areas
The problem is further compounded by human settlements along the river and its various tributaries, thereby restricting the flow to follow its natural spread in times of flood. The building of embankments along the Brahmaputra and its tributaries has only added to flooding waters breaking embankments.

5.Lack of Commitment and Vision
There has been very low investment made to address the problem of perennial flooding in Assam. During the 10th Five-year plan, only Rs 22 crore had been allocated for 10 flood management programs. This is an average of just Rs 2.2 crore for each program. This is for a state that has lost 4.2 lakh hectares of land to erosion and continues to suffer damages of over Rs 160 crore each year on account of floods.
Although international funding and increased financial investment from the center has improved, long term solutions still need to be addressed.
These are some of the causes which contribute to flooding in The Brahmaputra Plains. Now we shall discuss the devastating impacts these floods have on the lives of the state inhabitants:-
Impacts of Assam Floods
Impacts of Floods on Socio-Economic Life
Both floods and flash floods leave people homeless and displaced, destroy crops, damage public property, and damage development infrastructure, the spread of water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery, etc and have victims who become destitute suffering from trauma and shock. Thousands of hectares of fertile land in hundreds of villages with crops, settlements, and infrastructure have been lost to the river due to frequent shifting in the river course and erosion of river banks and these water-induced disasters have a serious impact on social, economic, cultural, and political changes affecting the society as a whole.

Environmental Impacts

 • Flooding can affect the health and well-being of wildlife and livestock. Large quantities of water can negatively affect natural and ranching and farming habitats.  If a flood is large enough, it can result in a loss of wildlife and biodiversity in the flooded region. This may reduce the level of biodiversity, habitat potential, and food present in the ecosystem, creating long-term impacts for surviving wildlife.
• Riverbank erosion is caused by high and fast-moving water that exceeds riverbanks. The impact of riverbank erosion is most felt in developed areas. 

• Important nutrients and mineral deposits can also be dispersed by floodwater, resulting in improved plant growth and overall ecosystem health. Over time, the nutrients, organic material, and sediment carried by floodwaters and deposited on the landscape can provide fertility benefits.

Recurring Flood havoc in Brahmaputra Valley in Assam serves as the major cause of disturbance in the socio-economic and environmental set up of the entire region. While natural hazards cannot be prevented, measures can be initiated for preventing hazards from turning into disasters by strengthening the coping capacities of the communities. Here is a wonderful article for grasping the psychology of flood management.

Implementation of measures and plans needs to be scrutinized at least once in a year with the involvement of people from affected areas, their feedback can help to bring new facts into light necessary in bringing changes in plans along with developing new strategies to minimize damage caused by the flood.

Written By - Pratiti Dasgupta
Edited by - Vaibhav Sharma

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