Ignored By The Centre, Assam Battles Floods And The Pandemic

The Central government does not have any plan to tackle the flood situation in Assam and other hand, the state government is busy fighting the pandemic, while the loss of lives, crops, and livestock continues.

Kalu Naik | July 31, 2020

Ignored by the Centre, Assam Battles Floods and the Pandemic

  Conde Nast Traveller India

Every year July 28th is celebrated internationally as World Nature Conservation day to protect and conserve natural resources and habitats. Due to the depletion of natural resources and imbalance in the ecosystem, people face risks like natural disasters, global warming, environmental pollution and various diseases. To conserve or protect natural resources, artificial conservation practices have been adopted but they are short lived and create natural disasters. In India, floods have been considered as a recurrent phenomenon, where frequency and severity of flooding causes huge loss of lives, livestock, crops, and public infrastructure. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of India data, India is a country with a high risk to flood (around 3290 lakh hectares of a geographical area prone to floods every year). Every year, on average 1600 lives are lost and severe damage to crops, houses, and public infrastructure which costs around Rs.1805 crores. The frequency and severity have increased the systematic risk to the small and marginal farmers and social-economically disadvantaged sections of people and to their survival and livelihood.

The recent floods in Assam and Bihar witnessed the year’s major floods along with the Corona pandemic that has wreaked havoc on small and marginal farmers and socio-economically disadvantaged sections of society. In Assam, the flood situation is routine during the monsoon season as most of the rivers are likely to flood because rivers receive heavy rainfall during the monsoon. Many scholars and experts have opined that these rivers are in their early stages of maturity and active agents of soil erosion. The river waters collect a tremendous amount of silt and raise the water level of the river beds. Therefore, it becomes impossible for the main channel to cope with the vast volume of water received during the monsoon rain. Since 1950, there have been 12 major floods in Assam, but in recent times the frequency of the flood has increased drastically due to deforestation, climate change, and encroachment of flood plains, and also the poor maintenance of embankment resulting in the unexpected flood situation in Assam. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), around 496 human lives and 7102 livestock, around 5.99 lakh houses have been damaged and crops affected by 4.01 lakh hectares of land due to the flood and rain-related events. Therefore, it can be rightly said that flood has caused the long-term physical and economic loss of the people.

It is found that the flood mainly affects agriculture and its allied sectors. Assam is one of the agricultural states with a diverse ethnic population, where around 86 percent of the population live in rural areas and 14 percent in urban areas (Census, 2011). It is found that the percentage of the rural population of the state is higher than the all-India average about 69 percent. In rural areas, most of the people directly or indirectly depend on agricultural activities to support their livelihood and daily employment. Agriculture is considered as the backbone of the state’s economy, contributing around 17 percent of GSDP and 69 percent of employment in the labor force participation as per the government report 2018-19. The unexpected rain in monsoon has resulted in floods and created uncertainties for agriculture activities such as showing, plantation, and breeding which automatically wash out of crops and farmland.

Another important aspect is women; women are the most vulnerable section of society during the flood or in the context of any disaster. All the households work as well as the agricultural activities are mostly engaged by the female. According to the Census of India, 2011, data reveals that female-headed households often depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, mostly the social disadvantage sections like SC and ST around 55.8 and 33.4 percent respectively are the female-headed household. These households are considered as the most vulnerable members of the community from the socio-economic point of view. However, women are mostly viewed as agricultural laborers rather than farmers. They undertake agricultural operations such as showing, plantation, weeding, and harvesting. Women are employed as agricultural laborers and often paid less than men for the same work. Along with agricultural activities, women also perform domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, and raising children and they are also involved in subsistence farming mainly for family consumption. It is found that female-headed households are always running from pillar to post for their livelihood during the flood. They are also engaged as casual workers due to losing their employment and crops, which resulted in the food becoming a nightmare to them.

Another important aspect is decreasing in the livestock population due to floods. Livestock rearing is one of the most important economic activities for rural areas. The poor and marginal section of people rear the smaller livestock like goat, sheep, pigs, chicken, and ducks, etc., while large farmers rearing cattle, buffalo, and horses. According to the Department of Animal Husbandry and Fisheries (DAHD&F) data reveals that the poultry population is around 46.7 million and cattle 10.9 million respectively (Livestock Census, 2019). The early flood situation has washed out all the poultry and livestock and economy of the people.

Assam has witnessed the 5 great national parks and 18 wildlife sanctuaries for protection of famous one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic elephant, royal Bengal tiger, wild buffalo, and other migratory birds. The Kaziranga National Park, Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Manas National Park have been destroyed by the frequent floods in Assam and resulted in the loss of habitats for the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the Asiatic elephant and the wild buffalo. According to Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), 70 percent of Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary remains flooded and the forest department is unable to provide the fodder and grasses amid an acute shortage of food due to the flood. This sanctuary is known to have the world’s highest density of rhinos. It is not only the loss of animals but also the daily livelihood of the local people whose daily bread and butter come from the wildlife sanctuary.

The present government does not have any plan to tackle the flood situation in Assam and other hand, the state government is busy fighting the pandemic, while the loss of lives, crops, and livestock continues. People are dying of hunger and acute shortage of food and a large number of animals dying without grass and fodder. India is a signatory to frameworks such as Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reductions (SFDRR), Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement to reduce the disaster risk vulnerability with sustainable manners. To control the flood risk, the state government should synergise its efforts with other agencies like civil society organizations and other stakeholders and should come up with a better flood management plan. The flood forecasting technologies for monitoring reservoir should be updated.

Dr. Kalu Naik has received a Ph.D. from Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU, and is currently associated with ICAR-NIAP, New Delhi.