Same suffering

The Indian Express | 4 days ago | 24-06-2022 | 03:45 am

Same suffering

Even as Assam becomes the site of the political turmoil in Maharashtra, people in the Northeastern state are facing the fury of the Brahmaputra, Barak and their tributaries. Nearly 100 people have lost their lives in the rain-induced landslides and floods that have engulfed 30 of Assam’s 35 districts, a geographical sweep described as unprecedented by experts. The Centre and state government have commenced relief operations but the raging rivers have hobbled these activities. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has reportedly said that once the waters recede, the government will find a permanent solution to the state’s flood problem. Similar statements have been made before, including in 2020, by then CM Sarbananda Sonowal. But words have rarely been matched by action.For more than half a century, Assam has relied on embankments to stave off the swelling rivers during the monsoons. A growing body of literature shows that these walled structures — most of them have not been repaired for decades — are ill-equipped to tackle floods, especially at a time when climate change is complicating the state’s hydrology. Assam’s flood management data shows that it needs to take such studies seriously. Last year, the state’s water resources minister, Pijush Hazarika, informed the Assam assembly that close to 1,300 cases of embankment breaches have been recorded since 2000. Reports of the state’s Disaster Management Authority show that the problem has intensified in recent times. Floods ripped apart nearly 200 embankments in 2020. This year, they have destroyed nearly 300 such structures. A report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources last year advised the state government to strengthen flood protection structures, address soil erosion and de-silt rivers. But these measures continue to be on the to-do list of the Assam government. In fact, the state’s flood management outlay has come down in the past two years.Assam has received nearly twice its average June rainfall in the first three weeks of the month. The state’s rainfall for March-May was 62 per cent more than the normal average. Destruction of natural wetlands and outmoded sewer systems in the state’s cities — including in Guwahati, projected to be a smart city by 2025 — have made these urban centres susceptible to water logging. Waterbody restoration and sewer system overhaul might take time. Meanwhile, the state government would do well to build people’s resistance to the elements in cities, towns and villages. Such measures include putting flood warning systems in place and shifting people and livestock to safer locations. The state’s annual suffering must end.

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