Assam flood
Flood-affected Dabaka area in Hojai district. (File photo) Image credit: UB Photos

If one imagines the Brahmaputra valley of Assam and thinks about the climatic conditions of its neighbourhood, it is not difficult to understand why floods occur here annually. The floods in one year differ from another year in degree and severity though. The flood scenario of Assam is fast changing. It is changing its patterns too frequently and making it difficult to cope with it. At times its severity is unfathomable.

This time in about a week’s time more than 60 people have died in floods in Assam and over 50 lakh people have been affected by it. What a scenario of   damage and devastation! The flood waters will recede and have already started receding.  But it will leave a trail of human misery which will linger for months and may be for years. Do we have a robust system to take to the challenges caused by the yearly floods, particularly when it takes so severe a turn as it has happened this year?

How is the Assam State Disaster Management (ASDMA) equipped to deal with such challenges? How quickly and efficiently it could reach the sites of disasters and take appropriate measures to mitigate the damage! The recent deaths and devastation don’t give us a rosy picture. We all agree that the intensity and expanse of the devastation are of gigantic nature. Even then, who will attend to them? After all it is the responsibility of the state only.

As floods are not a sudden problem we should already have a well defined manual to deal with this. I know we have a manual. But is it all comprehensive and is it being continually and progressively revised to take to the new challenges? It seems there is also paucity of funds though government is not ready to admit it. The response of the Central government to the flood devastation of Assam is far from satisfactory.

There was a picture of the BJP MPs meeting the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Assam’s flood situation in standing. I hope they discussed it with him sitting. But if they met him in standing, we don’t know what to read from the picture. The journalists and more knowledgeable people will be able to enlighten us on that. But whatever it is the general feeling in Assam is that the Centre has not given enough importance for the flood disaster of Assam.

It has been alleged that the amount of Rs 250 crore released now by the Centre was due much earlier and it was a part payment of the total disaster management funds allocated for Assam. If this is true then Centre didn’t pay any attention to the flood situation in Assam. Assam government and MPs from Assam also failed in drawing attention of the Central Government to this problem. It is not only sad, but condemnable.

Over the years, certain things said about Assam’s flood problems have become hackneyed like declaring it as a national problem and seeking a permanent solution to it. Forget about declaring this problem a national problem. But is it a sin to seek a permanent solution to this problem? But at times permanent solution to a problem may be a problematic thing. If you survey most tricky problems of our country, you will find that a huge amount of money is involved in the tackling of those problems.

The problems affect the common people and they recurrently suffer. But the funds in tackling the problems also benefit the problem manager. If the problem is solved for once and all what will happen to the problem mangers? This sounds funny, but yet true. The mandate of Brahmaputra Board was to manage the flood problems of Assam. What has it done in its long four decades of existence?  Where was its master plan? Unfortunately we have lost interest in asking such questions. We really don’t know what Brahmaputra Board has been doing all these years towards seeking a permanent solution to problem. May be they want the problem to linger further so that its management can also linger on. We really don’t know.

Floods and erosion are not only natural calamities for Assam, they are also the causes of serious social rifts. Because of floods and erosion, rivers change their currents and directions which affect people in the riparian locations. The affected people shift to other locations. They become new arrivals at new locations and at time are also dubbed as foreigners. It has been happening in Assam for years and decades. We tend to ignore this angle while looking at the foreign nationals problem in Assam.

Floods are also a cause of serious environmental problems. Now one may ask whether floods cause environmental problems or environmental problems cause floods. Environmental degradation may cause floods and floods may also be the causes of serious environmental degradation.

So it will be foolhardy now to look at the flood scenario of Assam without linking it to climate change. Experts have raised serious apprehension about constructing of big dams in Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border. The present floods are also to a great extent induced by the waters released from the dams from Assam and Bhutan. In the beginning of this piece we talked about imagining the location of Assam valley. Is it that they are going to turn the entire Brahmaputra valley to a big dam and in coming years all us are going to live in it?

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Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com

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