As I write this, over ten lakh people have already been affected by the ongoing deluge spread all across the state of Assam, amidst the lurking fear of a pandemic. How will people follow social distancing rules when the only place they could call home has been washed away by massive flooding? According to reports, 23 districts have been affected and the death toll has risen to 21.
The Upper Assam town of Dibrugarh has been badly affected by floods this year. Many disturbing images have been doing the rounds on social media of people rowing boats within the township. The All India Radio (AIR) station in Dibrugarh was heavily inundated.
Many people claim that the recent rise in the occurrences of floods can be attributed to improper drainage mostly arising because of clogging of drains with plastic waste. The Digboi town in the nearby Tinsukia district saw landslide after a very long time. This is reportedly the second landslide after 1995.
As usual, the Dhemaji district in eastern Assam is worst affected in this second wave of flood. It lies on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River and is an extremely fertile area albeit ecologically fragile. It has been reported that 80 % of the Kaziranga National Park is inundated with one female rhino and three Hog deers being reported dead.
The increase in the flooding scenario has been on the rise over the past decade because of climate change. With the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) releasing its first comprehensive report on the ‘Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region’ and projecting a temperature rise of 4.4 degree Celsius by the end of the century, we have a lot to worry and act upon as an upcoming superpower!
Just four days after the World Environment Day, Baghjan in Tinsukia District was in the news for an extremely sad event. On 9 June 2020, a massive fire broke out in Baghjan Oil Well no. 5 after it had a blow out on 27 May 2020 and had been leaking gas because of high pressure.
A team of experts had arrived from a Singapore-based firm named M/s Alert Disaster Control to assess the situation of the blowout. They were on the field when the fire broke out. Some claim the hot day must have aggravated the situation resulting in the inferno and it would take nearly four weeks to bring the situation under control.
Experts say that the oil well-catching fire will make it easier to control the disaster. In this unfortunate event, over 2000 people have been affected and they have been provided with relief measures by Oil India Limited (OIL).
On the other hand, two firemen lost their lives. They were Durlov Gogoi (an ex-football player) and Tikeswar Gohain, who worked as assistant operators at the fire service department of OIL. Their bodies were recovered by an NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) team.
The tragedy does not end there. The Maguri-Motapung beel (wetland) just near the Baghjan well has been severely damaged because of the blowout. It is situated very close to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and is an important bird area notified by Birdlife International.
Every year, people witness the migratory birds that visit this wetland turning it into a potential eco-tourism hub. New Delhi based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has been assigned with the task of assessing the air and noise levels near the well along with the bioremediation of the sludge.
A carcass of the Gangetic dolphin, along with a dead snake and birds were found after the blowout. The beel has suffered a massive loss at a time when the entire area is hit by floods.
Wetlands are extremely crucial for flood control as they act like sponges. The water from the nearby Dangori River has caused hindrances in the ongoing operations of dousing the fire at Baghjan. Moreover, the incessant rains have led to the collapse of a bridge connecting Doomdooma and Baghjan.
The following video was taken during the collapse and it looks extremely scary!
Oil India Limited (OIL) has been regularly putting out updates on social media about the progress made so far and also about the hindrances caused during this operation.
Some leading newspapers reported last week about Bhutan stopping irrigation water into India. This is a very serious allegation, given India lies downstream. It will affect co-riparian rights severely, thereby hampering the camaraderie that both countries enjoy.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan had given out a statement through a Facebook post on June 26, 2020, refuting the claims made by India. The Facebook post read:
“Clarifications on the recent news articles published in India alleging that Bhutan has stopped the supply of irrigation water to farmers in areas in Assam adjoining Samdrup Jongkhar District.
It was also clarified by Assam’s Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna through a tweet.
Recent media reports about Bhutan blocking water supply to India has been incorrectly reported. The actual reason being the natural blockage of informal irrigation channels into Indian fields! Bhutan has been actually helping to clear the blockage. pic.twitter.com/H61c5T1EeJ
— Kumar Sanjay Krishna (@KrSanjayKrishna) June 25, 2020
India has been the recipient of so many Hydel power projects of Bhutan, as the latter is famous for exporting electricity. But, till date, there has been no formal water-sharing agreement between India and Bhutan, unlike the Indus Water treaty (IWT) with Pakistan, or the Ganges Water Sharing treaty with Bangladesh, and the Mahakali treaty between India and Nepal.
The transboundary water sharing between Bhutan and India has been very informal, through the centuries-old irrigation system called the jamfwi in the language of Bodo. The Bodo dominated districts comprising Udalguri, Baksa, Chirang and Kokrajhar, collectively known as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) share border with Bhutan. These districts lie on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River.
The most formal transboundary cooperation between India and Bhutan is through the Transboundary Manas Conservation Area (TraMCA) which has been extremely crucial for conserving tigers in the recent past. The area is interspersed between the Sankosh River in the west and Dhansiri River in the east. In India, it includes the Manas Tiger Reserve and in Bhutan, the forested areas of south covering the Royal Manas National Park, Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary and Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Ecosystem Services provided by TraMCA supports a total human population of over 10 million in India and Bhutan. Both the countries have been benefiting from resource sharing because of the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949 which was duly revised in 2007. We must never forget that Indians can visit this happy neighbour without a passport!
The need for coordinated efforts should be enhanced in these moments of crises pertaining to COVID-19, climate change, and the Chinese ‘threat’, as this part of the Himalayan region is prone to devastating effects of the deluge and deteriorating diplomatic ties.
Here’s a video of former All India Radio (AIR) staff artist, Syed Saadullah, who is seen strumming his guitar and singing an Assamese song in knee-deep waters from his home in Dibrugarh.