Monsoons and floods are synonymous for the people of Assam. And we are no strangers to the loss of lives and means of livelihood that comes with it. The world is battling with a pandemic, causing more than 26,000 deaths in India alone and infecting millions of people. To exacerbate the situation, over 28 districts of Assam have been hit by floods this month.
According to the state’s disaster management authority, the death toll in this year’s flood is 92. More than 3,000 villages are under water and 1,27,955 hectares of crop fields are destroyed. Thousands of people have lost their homes and are being evacuated to relief camps in several districts of the state. However, there is an additional reason why the floods are such a challenge for the Assam government during this time. Apparently when maintaining social distance is one of the primary prevention measures against COVID-19, the nature of rescue operations is making it a huge challenge, leading to a fear psychosis among people.
As thousands of people are being shifted to relief camps, the risk of the spread of COVID-19 increases. Maintaining proper social distancing norms and providing an adequate number of masks, sanitizers, and soaps in these camps is difficult. With the spike of coronavirus cases, most of the schools and open fields have been turned into quarantine centres, which limits the option of increasing the number of relief camps where flood victims can be shifted to without hampering the social distancing norms. Moreover, every year, the work on embankments and flood control measures begin from mid-April generally. But like everything else, these works were halted because of the lockdown. As a consequence, weak embankments in several districts have been destroyed, increasing the danger of more floods.
The mighty Brahmaputra River and many of its tributaries are flowing above the danger mark, putting the state at further risk. Other than humans, 76 animals including the endangered one-horned rhino of the Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary have died and hundreds more are severely affected by floods. Animals of Kaziranga National Park have come up on the highway leading to various injuries caused by speeding vehicles passing by.
The economy of Assam is not efficient enough to fight with these two huge problems simultaneously. With the rise in COVID-19 cases, along with the increasing danger of the floods, the state is facing a huge crisis at this point. Unlike other years, when the primary concern of the government has been the annual flood, this year the pandemic adds fuel to the fire. Even though the administration is trying its best on both fronts, this is just the onset of monsoon! The weather events of August are yet to begin, when there is continuous and heavy downpour for weeks leading to more flood risks in the state.
The issue is being highlighted in various international media like The New York Times and The Washington Post, along with social media solidarity posts by English Premier League Clubs Arsenal and Chelsea. But it requires much more national attention than it is receiving. Unfortunately, the Indian media turns a blind eye to this ‘Northeastern issue’, as always!
The media channels seem to be very busy reporting the lifestyle routines of Bollywood celebrities that they barely have any time to report on an issue where people are getting displaced and losing lives every single day. Assam’s natural resources are always considered as a part of the national economy, but Assam’s annual flood rarely comes under national issue. As the battle gets tougher every passing day, the state and its victims need and hope to get support from the rest of the nation at the moment to earn victory in it.