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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

    Erosion, not floods, is Assam’s major problem

    Floods are seasonal but erosion occurs throughout the year. To give a perspective, Assam has lost 4.3 lakh hectares of land to erosion since 1954

    From twitter storms to online donations, Assam flood have surely made its presence felt in today’s digital world. Celebrities from India, abroad and even local influencers have been lending their support, donations and prayers for the people of the state.

    Even politicians, leaders of various organizations have been visiting flood hit areas and inspecting the rampage made by the swelling Brahmaputra and its over 100 tributaries.

    But amidst all this current surge of attention to the northeast’s ecological troubles, flood veterans here corrected the nuance of problem. For them, it’s not the flood but the soil erosion is the greater problem.

    They said that the sorrow and devastating part of it that floods are seasonal but erosion occurs throughout the year. To give a prospective, Assam has lost 4.3 lakh hectares of land to erosion since 1954. It’s almost seven per cent of the state’s entire area or almost seven times the size of Mumbai.

    Recently, Assam’s former additional chief secretary C K Das, who also served in the state’s revenue department, in an interview asserted that erosion is a much bigger threat to Assam than floods as land holdings in Assam are much smaller compared to other states.

    He believed that over 10 lakh families in the state have become landless due to erosion over the years.

    Last year, Ratan Lal Kataria, the minister of state for water resources, social justice and empowerment, informed the parliament that some 86,536 people have been rendered landless due to soil erosion in the last five years in Assam alone.

    It’s found that people can recover from the losses caused by floods by resorting various alternative means of farming after the flood water recedes, but losing their lands to erosion forcing displacements of many has larger consequences.

    According to the National Flood Commission of India, about 40 per cent Assam’s area – close to 32 lakh hectares – is flood-prone, and therefore, vulnerable to erosion.

    Each year, Brahmaputra and its tributaries gulp an average of 80 sq km. It meant  that at any given time during the monsoon, some 2500 villages and five million people living there are vulnerable.

    For instance Majuli Island in the state was an expanse of 1,250 sq km at the starting of the 20th century. For years, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized it as the largest river island in the world.

    But when measured last in 2014, it was found that Majuli had shrunk to 352 sq km. Today, Majuli’s presence in the Guinness Book has become more of a notion than as a reality.

    In the last week of April, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal took stock of the state’s flood preparedness. Less than a month later, the river Brahmaputra swelled up and has been in spate ever since.

    In spite of the CM’s directives, the state administration seemed to have been caught unawares. Today, flood waters have killed over 102 persons and around 135 wildlife animas of the Kaziranga National Park including 14 rhinos. Sonowal once again visiting the flood hit areas currently and assuring the victims of shelter, food and medicine.

    It’s felt that both Centre and State government now need to shred this old politics of solidarity and prepare a long-term plan that goes beyond piecemeal measures like building embankments and dredging to control floods.

    Possibly an integrated basin management plan brining all the basin-sharing countries on board was the need of the time. Addressing the issues only in Assam when the flood strikes can’t be the solution — countries must come to an understanding about taking measures in the catchment areas.

    This has become critical because of the climate crisis, which is leading to intense rainfall in short periods of time and will only multiply the problems.


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