The state of Assam is once again reeling under floods since monsoon has hit this part of the country. It is one of those recurrent issues which have been plaguing the state since time immemorial. The floods in Assam are caused by two river systems – the Brahmaputra and the Barak. Torrential rains during monsoon result in the swelling up of the two mighty rivers and around fifty tributaries leading to massive floods and erosion in the state.
According to newspaper reports, as of August 2018, nearly 1.1 lakh people have been affected by floods across the districts of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Darrang, Golaghat, Sivasagar and Charaideo. Currently, the Brahmaputra river at Nimatighat in Jorhat, Dhansiri river at Golaghat town and Numaligarh in Golaghat and Jia Bharali river at NT road crossing in Sonitpur are flowing above the danger mark.163 villages are under water across the state and 10,991 hectares of crop areas have been damaged, according to Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA).
The floods in Assam are characterised by their frequency, high intensity and large scale devastation. The geology and geomorphology of the state, physiographic condition of the valley and excessive rainfalls are largely the factors behind the annual floods in the state. Human activities such as deforestation, poor drainage, encroachment of riverine areas and reckless urbanization are also to be blamed for the flood fury in the state.
The devastating floods in the state have an adverse effect on the rural economy and infrastructure. In addition to large scale deaths, floods often leave the rural economy in shambles. This article attempts to chalk out the key impacts of floods in the rural areas state.
The floods in the state lead to loss of several lives and damage in property. This year the death toll is at 43 with more than a lakh people being affected by the natural disaster. The authorities are running 132 relief camps and distribution centres in five districts. Life is arduous in the flood affected areas. Entire villages get washed away and people need to restart their lives from ground zero. Education takes a backseat as schools and collegesinevitably remain shut during this time. Families are great pains to rebuild their houses, purchase hard earned property and get life back on track.
Floods in Assam cause huge destruction and irreparable loss of infrastructure facilities, roads, transports, electricity, drainage, schools, health centers, community centers and public drinking water sources. Roads and bridges remain submerged and in many cases get eroded or washed away by flood water. This is a major concern since the physical infrastructure in the rural areas of Assam is poor and at times non-existent. Local new channels are abuzz with reports of villagers protesting against the dilapidated roads, rickety bridges and the inaction of the government. The situation is grim in the districts affected by flood because humanitarian help and supplies are unable to reach the people on time due to operational constraints posed by lack of infrastructure.
The nastiest affect of flood is on agricultural land. This year 10,991 hectares of crop areas have been damaged by floods. This is a major setback since more than 70 per cent of the population in Assam relies on agriculture as farmers, as agricultural laborers or both for their livelihood. Not only do crops get affected, huge number of cattle and livestock also get washed away in the flood water. Purchasing farm animals every year involves an economic cost the farmers are unable to bear. Ruining of cultivated lands means that the cultivators will have nothing to sell in the market and thus earn no money during this time of the year. Soil erosion caused by flood leads to reduction in the fertility of soil thereby resulting in a poorer produce in the following year. The agriculture dependent population in the rural areas of Assam is the worst suffers of the recurring floods in the state.
Assam’s devastating floods have a major impact on the economic conditions of the rural households. A study conducted by the Centre for Environment, Social and Policy Research (CESPR) in collaboration with the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change reveals that many people, who were earlier dependent on agriculture, have been forced to take up other avenues of employment due to change in climatic pattern. It is also an acute necessity that forces people to uproot themselves from their original homes and workplaces to seek livelihood elsewhere. Excessive floods result in disruption in communication for long periods of time which adversely affects students, particularly girls, as they are forced to drop out of schools and colleges. Young girls from the tea garden areas are vulnerable as they are lured with the promise of jobs but are instead pushed into flesh trade. Women who were earlier home-makers are now forced to take up weaving, daily wage labour and other related activities to make ends meet, while several households are taking up fishing to make up for lost agricultural produce.
The aftermath of flood is the emergence of several water borne diseases. Since drinking water sources are compromised, people are forced to use contaminated sources of water for both daily use and direct consumption leading to ailments such as diarrhea, skin allergies, viral gastroenteritis, etc. Spread of epidemics is one the major consequences of flood. A recent survey on the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) conducted in the flood-affected areas of Assam by Caritas India, revealed that 67% of the flood-affected population defecates in the open, due to lack of sanitation facilities and damages to existing sanitation structures in these areas after the flood. Of the existing latrines in the villages, there are no hand washing facilities available nearby, and therefore only 50% of the surveyed population wash their hands after defecation. These latrines are not suitable for the elderly, people living with disabilities and even children. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, something as simple as washing hands with soap can reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%. It is pertinent for the state authorities to set up health clinics in the flood affected areas to ensure steady supply of medicines, availability of doctors and basic medical facilities to help prevent and cure existing illnesses among the people.
Floods in Assam have become an annual feature that people have been coexisting with. While the topography of the state, the existence of two large river systems and excessive rainfall in the state are largely responsible for the havoc created by floods year after year, adequate measures need to be adopted to minimize the damage caused. The flood management and mitigation strategies should be sincerely and honestly executed by state and central government and the awareness among public should also be raised to better cope with the destruction caused by flood.