Assam is the land of two mighty rivers – Brahmaputra and Barak. Each year these two rivers and their tributaries cause floods in vast areas of Assam which leads to human misery and devastation of nature. This year, more than 30 districts including lower and upper Assam have been severely affected.
Several factors including natural and artificial are responsible for the re-occurrence of floods in Assam. First and foremost, Assam lies in the heart of monsoon belt and so gets overburdened with rainfall every rainy season. Due to this, the river along with its tributaries such as Subansiri, Manas, Kopili, Jia-Bhoroli, etc. get flooded and their banks overflow flooding the vast plain of the state. Secondly, the existence of long ranges of mountains on its northern and eastern boundaries compels the water to flow down into the vast plain causing the rivers to swell. Thirdly, every year due to heavy natural as well as artificial land sliding, Assam loses hundreds of kilometres of its land area. This soil erosion makes the river shallow, which later helps in the creation of a heavy flood.
There are also human-induced factors like destruction of wetlands, deforestation, and encroachment on river banks. Most cities and towns suffer due to poor urban planning. Drainage congestion due to man-made embankments is one of the crucial factors responsible for urban floods that can be visible every year in cities like Guwahati, Chennai, and Mumbai.
The havoc caused by the flood in Assam is beyond describable. The destruction of properties and loss of life is visible every passing year. Lakhs are rendered homeless, standing crops are damaged and roads and communication links are interrupted, hence affecting the economic condition of the state. Some of the worst affected areas include MSME sector, tea industry, wildlife and biodiversity of Assam. Increase in rhino poaching during flood is one of the alarming factors for the decline of rhino population in Assam. The floods also increase the spread of water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid, dysentery, etc.
No doubt, the government has taken several flood control measures to lessen the menace and effects of flood in the state. Immediate assistance of NDRF and SDRF, flood relief measures including setting up of relief camps, free distribution of food, clothes, medicines, cash compensation for the lost property, etc. are undertaken by the government. The chief flood control measure has been the construction of embankments along the banks of rivers in the effected areas. In recent years, India signed a treaty with China in which the latter has agreed to provide hydrological data of the river Brahmaputra during monsoon.
Although it is not possible to flood-proof all of Assam, several measures should be undertaken for a long-term solution. Increasing the water holding capacity of Brahmaputra and its tributaries by dredging will be an effective solution to eliminate the havoc of flood from the state. It will decrease the rate of disaster by almost 70%. A flood is caused due to the riverbed rising. Today, technology has risen to great heights, so it is not impossible to mitigate the flood problem. Besides, dredging will also contribute to the development of water highway in the Brahmaputra, which will be a good option to develop our economy.
Moreover, the rejuvenation of wetlands, afforestation, decentralization of weather forecast, construction of more micro and scientific reservoirs and dams, establishment of river valley projects, etc. may reduce the problem considerably in the long run. Embankments should be constructed away from the rivers so that the free-flowing state of the river is maintained. Certain areas should be reserved for water retention to level off the peaks during extreme floods. The recently announced Kaleshwaram project on river Godavari is an example for the mitigation of flood and proper utilization of water in Telangana.
Besides, an artificial flood is actually human creation. Therefore to reduce it, houses should be built scientifically along with proper urban planning. Jamming of water drains, garbage in ponds should be mitigated by proper policies and through the imposition of strict rules.
Perhaps the best solution lies in the recently proposed plan of interlinking the rivers of India whereby the extra water of Brahmaputra and its tributaries can be diverted to dry land areas of western and southern India at the minimum cost of marine environment and ecological degradation.