The year 2020 is all about survival of the fittest. With one disaster after another, 2020 has become the year where life is all about ‘just surviving’. While the entire nation is battling the coronavirus, heavy rainfalls have made it more difficult for the people of Assam. As many as 26 out of 33 districts of the state are affected by floods triggered by a heavy monsoon shower. The rainfall that began on July 12 flooded the Brahmaputra River, which cascaded into 30 districts thereby affecting more than 70 lakh people all across the state.
As of now, over 120 people and 100 wild animals including at least 9 rare rhinos have been reported dead in the recent deluge. Almost 85% of Kaziranga National Park in Assam, home to the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinos is underwater. Dozens of other animals including 36 hog deer, eight rhinos, three wild buffalo, one python, seven wild boar, two swamp deer, one Sambar, and two porcupines have also died many due to drowning, although others were hit by vehicles as they attempted to escape the floodwater.
However, this is not something new. Assam is a flood-prone state with its vast network of rivers. Many natural and man-made factors have contributed to the flood-related devastation in the state. During monsoon each year, the Brahmaputra River along with its more than 50 tributaries wreak turmoil for the citizens of Assam. The flood-prone area of the state as assessed by the Rashtriya Barh Ayog (RBA) is about 39.58% of the total land area of Assam, which is about 9.40% of the total flood-prone area of the country.
The situation is worsened as Assam receives river water flowing down from states like Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, causing flash floods. During 2004 and 2014 the state experienced flash floods due to cloud burst in Meghalaya. The same incident happened in 2011 when the river Gainadi and Jiadhal overflowed.
Another major problem is bank erosion caused by Brahmaputra, Barak, and its other tributaries. This causes water to overflow in low-lying areas every year. A report published by the Assam government in 2015 showed that the bank erosion caused by the Brahmaputra has destroyed 3800 square kilometers since 1984.
The Assam floods have led to the loss of human and animal life year after year. At least 497 people were killed by floods in 2004 alone. On average the flood kills 50 people every year. In 2012 the Brahmaputra flood killed 124 people and about 6 million were displaced. In Kaziranga National Park almost 540 animals died including 16 endangered one-horned rhinos.
In 2016 and 2017 more than 16 lakh people were affected and about 307 animals in 2016 and 503 animals in 2017 lost their lives due to heavy flood. A total of 52 people died and 186,998.98 hectares of total crop area was affected in 29 districts of Assam in 2017.
This year’s flood coupled with the pandemic has made it even more challenging for the people of Assam. According to ASDMA (Assam State Disaster Management Authority), more than 93 people have lost their lives due to floods and landslides, and a total of 26 landslides have hit the state. The flood has affected nearly 27.64 lakh people in 26 of the 33 districts of the state. The flood has destroyed houses, crops, roads, and bridges at several places. Massive erosions have also been witnessed in the Biswanath, Udalguri, Darrang, and South Salmara districts.
The ASDMA set up 649 relief camps and distribution centers across 21 districts where 1.18 lakh people are taking shelters. The SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) administrators in the state have rescued 511 people. The authorities have distributed rice, dal, salt, and mustard oil along with other relief materials such as baby food, candles, matchbox, biscuits, etc. The central government also announced a package of Rs.346 crore to tackle the flood situation in Assam.
Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal visited localities in Dhemaji and reviewed the situation. He also took stock of the situation in Lakhimpur and Majuli. Prime Minister Narender Modi spoke to the CM to take stock of the flood, erosion, and coronavirus situation in the state. The PM said that the central government is keeping a close check on the state and stands with the people of Assam in these testing times.
Flooding and landslides are common occurrences during monsoon in the north-eastern region and neighboring countries. But this year’s flood comes at a time when the nation is struggling to arrest the spread of coronavirus with more than a million cases and more than 30,000 deaths reported across the country.
By – Nikita Sen