Drowned in misery

Drowned in misery

Though floods are an annual feature in most states and cause destruction everywhere, the North-Eastern parts of the country often suffer the most because of the longer duration of the monsoon there, the nature of the terrain and the huge mass of water that flows through the untamed Brahmaputra in its mountainous course.

Assam is again in the grip of a third visitation of floods this year, even when the impact of the earlier rounds is fresh. Lakhs of people in 17 districts of the state have been displaced, a number of people have lost their lives and there is huge loss of property in terms of homesteads, crops and cattle. Further up, Arunachal Pradesh has also been badly affected and there also large numbers of people have been displaced.

Roads, bridges, embankments and buildings have collapsed all over Assam and there is threat of further devastation. The army and other agencies have been called out in some places. Wildlife sanctuaries and national parks have been submerged. Rescue and rehabilitation work is going on in many affected areas.

The new wave of floods has added to the misery caused by the earlier ones. Those who were rescued from floods in July and August are still living in make-shift shelters, or on embankments or roads. Supply of relief is shoddy and diseases are spreading. The prime minister has visited the flood-hit areas and promised assistance but the dire situation is still largely unabated. There is criticism that the state authorities are always taken unawares by floods though they are an annual scourge. The Brahmaputra Board was set up for the management of the river but it has not been successful in formulating and implementing plans to minimise the damage caused by the river and to maximise the benefits from the large river system, which is a lifeline of the region.

It has been often noted that Assam needs a flood prevention and control strategy which suits the specific features of the river and the region. There have been suggestions for short term measures and long term plans, including a proposal to dredge the river. But they have not been effectively acted upon. There has also been no proper and scientific study of the water flows and of the efficacy of the present system of embankments. If attention is not paid to them, the disaster is only bound to recur every year.