Amid flooding and climate change, it’s local systems that hold Assam’s fabric togetherGlobal Voices

Dhemaji, Assam, India. A villager watches a washed away road in Hesuli village in Dhemaji district, Assam, September 2020. Image via Flickr by the Climate Center. CC BY-NC 2.0.

The Brahmaputra and its tributaries have shaped the landscape of the northeastern region of India for centuries, but again this year the monsoon season brought massive flooding to the Assam Valley. Swollen rivers have flooded parts of the state, repeatedly displacing populations living along the river basin.

Today, faced with the failure of management and flood protection structures, local village communities and volunteer groups are mobilizing and helping each other when it comes to relief and rehabilitation efforts.

A worsening situation

The environment-focused news site Down to Earth published an article about the fate of Mas Dihiri village, located in Dhemaji district in Assam. Here, the Kumutiya River, one of the tributaries of the Bramhapoutra, is set to change its course rapidly – with devastating results. The river has changed course by up to three kilometers since 1960, and stories like these are not isolated but rather scattered across the length and breadth of Assam. When the village of Majdolopa, for example, experienced another flash flood in July 2020, people found themselves trapped as the Brahmaputra swelled after relentless rains.

Changing precipitation patterns and the resulting flooding indicate an interconnection with climate change. In October, the Energy, Environment and Water Council (CEEW) released a report titled Mapping India’s Climate Vulnerability – A District-level Assessment, based on its analysis of 646 districts across India. . It ranks Assam among the five states most vulnerable to disasters such as floods, droughts and cyclones, with four of its districts – Dhemaji, Nangaon, Darrang and Lakhimpur – among the 20 most vulnerable places in the country.

The predominant reason for global warming and interrelated climate change has been posed at the gates of CO2 emissions. India is one of the major contributors to this problem, owing to rapid industrialization and urbanization. According to the journal Nature Climate Change, India emitted 2.65 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2016 and 2019.

Climate change means that snow melts faster, increasing the volume of water in rivers that are fed by the snow at their origin. In addition, the total number of rainy days during the monsoon has decreased, but the intensity of precipitation on those days has increased. Heavy showers and rains cause flash floods with little or no warning.

Citizens and policy makers have recognized the obvious crisis in the valley:

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are affected by these floods, losing their lives, homes, crops and livestock. By September 2021, floods had already affected more than 600,000 people in several districts, killing five in the process. People who live along the river basin are often forced to take refuge in relief camps for weeks, before returning to the chaos of what once represented their lives.

From 2020 to 2021, the narrative has hardly changed; micro-blogging sites like Twitter are littered with stories of the misery of the floods in Assam, noting its painful effects – from shift food insecurity:

Volunteer groups to the rescue

As the crisis in Assam worsened, people’s commitment to finding new ways to cope also increased. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) found itself supported by village communities and volunteer groups like the Majdolopa Village Disaster Management Committee, who emerged to take charge of the situation. Established in 2015, the group is made up of around 23 young volunteers who saved lives and helped citizens stranded when the river swelled earlier this year.

Several of these committees dot the geography of Assam today. The village of Chomoni Chapori also has a disaster management committee, with volunteers responding to the needs not only of their own community, but also those of neighboring villages – and these citizen initiatives are both logical and systematic in their approach. approach. The village committee of Chomoni Chapori has four groups: the first acts as an early warning system, the second provides first aid workers, the third deals with sanitation and hygiene in disasters, and the fourth provides search teams to search for missing persons and possible survivors.

2015 Assam flood. Image via Wikipedia by Pradip Nemane.  CC BY-SA 4.0

2015 Assam flood. Image via Wikipedia by Pradip Nemane. CC BY-SA 4.0

Citizens are also leveraging the power of any technology at their disposal, using WhatsApp groups to send early flood alerts. In 2019, when relentless rains broke the banks of the river, one such initiative, the Friendship Association, delivered messages about the approaching floods – from Bhutan to Assam – through their friends and NGOs based in India.

However, while people seize the opportunity each time to provide support to their villages and communities, these informal measures require fortification through more formal means. In a November parliamentary session, the failure of India’s flood management system was cited as one of the reasons for the dire situation in Assam – but it remains to be seen whether this will trigger further measures to alleviate the suffering of the inhabitants of the region.

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