Assam floods: lasting solution needed

Assam is facing its annual scourge of floods in the Brahmaputra, which is causing large-scale death and destruction. The Brahmaputra is among the most untamed rivers in the country which swells during the monsoon to inundate much of the state. Assam receives more rain than most other states. Halfway through the rainy season, 26 of its 35 districts are reeling under floods and 17.5 lakh people have been affected. Over 50 people have lost their lives. The loss of property, crops and livelihood is yet to be estimated. Most of the affected people have left their homes behind and are in camps. Thousands of domestic and wild animals have been lost. A good part of the Kaziranga National Park is under water and many animals, including four one-horned rhinos, have disappeared. It is a calamity of national proportions. Other Northeastern states have also been affected.

Though the floods were only to be expected and the government had made promises to take measures to tackle them, the state was as unprepared as ever to face them. The Brahmaputra is a wide river and the embankments are considered to have an important role in containing the floodwaters. They were not repaired and strengthened in time because of the lack of funds, bureaucratic delays and other reasons. Many of them have given way. About 300 of over 400 embankments covering 4,000 km have exceeded their life span. Many other preventive steps were also not taken. This is the case every year. Authorities try to take steps for relief and rehabilitation of victims after the floods, and this is always a half-done job. There cannot be adequate mitigation of the human misery caused by the floods and financial and other kinds of compensation are always inadequate. There is much corruption also in these exercises.

There has to be a combination of short-term and long-term measures to deal with the floods. The special course of the river, its widely varying size at different places and the high sedimentation and siltation in it make floods in the Brahmaputra bigger and more aggressive than in other rivers. There is still no agreement on how to fight the floods. There is a view that embankments are the problem and not the remedy. Measures like flood plain zoning, better forecasting and community-based local measures are suggested as more effective steps by some. Another proposal is for construction of dams but this is controversial. But a lasting solution needs to be found to save the Northeast from the recurring deluge.

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