Reality of Assam Floods

Once again, more than 50 people have been killed due to the floods in Assam More than 45 lakh people are directly affected 95% of the Kaziranga National Park was inundated when the floods were at their peak Once again. I’m saying “once again” because this has become the tale of every year In 2014, 124 people were killed due to floods in the northeastern states and Assam In 2015, 42 people (were killed) 28 people in 2016, 85 people in 2017, 12 people in the 2018 Year after year people get killed This affects the lives of lakhs of people. Lakhs of people are directly affected Several animals in National parks also get killed What is it due to which Assam gets flooded year after year and there’s destruction on such a massive scale? Why does this happen and what could be the solutions for it?

Why Assam Floods Every Year?

The first thing we need to understand is that Assam has always been India’s most flood-prone state The most number of floods occur here The reason behind this is that the river Brahmaputra that flows through Assam is a very unstable river It changes its course a lot, In fact, the researchers have discovered that a massive earthquake struck North-east India in the 1950s Ever since that earthquake, the Brahmaputra has become even more unstable Between 1950s and 2010, there have been around twelve major floods in Assam But you would notice that in the last few years, a major flood has occurred almost every year The frequency of the floods have increased so much So the question here is why has the frequency of the floods increased? Why are more floods occurring?

Deforestation

The reason behind this is deforestation on a massive scale, the cutting down of trees and forests Unplanned growth, the encroachment of floodplains and wetlands Floodplains are the nearby areas of a river’s course When there is an excess volume of water in the river, it flows out over the floodplains Builders and other people have started construction of houses on these floodplains They’ve started “development” due to which the river water does not have room to flow, As a result, water flows into people’s homes Another reason is the improper drainage system Climate change is another reason. So is improper construction of embankments.

Climate Change Impact

Here, I’d focus on two major areas- embankments and climate change The situation of floods right now are that Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, and parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are affected A high alert has been sounded in Kerala because extremely heavy rainfall has been predicted in the next 3 days A flood-like situation may also occur there This is a very interesting situation Actually, the use of the word “Interesting” would not be apt. It is a very strange situation Because just a month earlier, there was a scarcity of water in Kerala.

There was a deficit of 46% in rainfall The water reservoirs were low and there was almost a situation of a water crisis And now, suddenly, extremely heavy rainfall has been predicted here. So much so that floods may occur So, one month earlier, there was a water crisis. Now suddenly, so much rainfall that floods might occur This is a direct impact of climate change The number of days (on which) rainfall used to occur is diminishing due to climate change When it rains, it rains with more intensity.

The cases of extreme rainfall are on the rise due to which floods occur The total number of days of rainfall is falling due to which the situation of the water crisis is also increasing The situation of drought is also worsening The same situation was before us in Mumbai a few days ago between June 20th and June 26th There was a 95% deficit of rainfall in Mumbai But when it rained, it was so extreme that all the roads were inundated and floods occurred in Mumbai

What Is Embankment?

I’d like to focus on embankments Embankments, levee and dykes are three different names of the same thing They refer to the wall that is constructed on the bank of the rivers to control the flow of the river and direct it in a particular way and to prevent the flooding of the nearby areas Historically, all believe that this is a simple way to stop the rivers from flooding They can be made of concrete or even mud The problem that arises while building an embankment is that whenever you try to restrict flow and try to reduce its area, then the speed of the flow of the water will increase and its level will also increase You can see it in this photo here Sedimentation of a river increases if the area of the flow of the river is reduced

So, the buildup of sedimentation in the embankment If it is not removed and maintained properly, the level of the river will continually rise and then water will start to flow over the embankments Then there’d be no use of embankments because the outside areas would be flooded the same as earlier Another thing is that the people who are living beside the embankments, who’ve constructed their houses here They are lulled into a false sense of security They feel that the constructed embankments will ensure that the river flows in the same area But they do not know that before the construction of the embankment, the river flowed over a larger area, its sedimentation used to be spread over a larger area due to which, there was obviously flooding before as a flood plain existed earlier Now that these houses have been constructed, the chances of them flooding has increased

Embankment Breaching

When an embankment fails to stop the water, then it is called embankment breaching This can happen in two ways. First, when the river level rises so high that the water begins to overflow You can see how this happens in this Second thing that can happen is that the embankment breaks A hole can arise in the middle somewhere.

It could be weak at some point and the water starts to flow out of the hole If it so happens, then there’d be no use of embankments Therefore it is said that an embankment is only as strong as its weakest point because it needs to break from only one point and then the entire thing is laid to waste A break at the point could lead to floods everywhere Therefore they need to be constructed carefully, keeping high standards in mind If any “jugaads” (resourceful arrangements ) were made while construction, then the entire thing could break It needs more of regular maintenance

In Assam, there are around 450 embankments on the banks of rivers More than half of them are in an extremely vulnerable condition. That is, they can break easily Researchers believe that there is an ongoing administrator-contractor nexus in Assam Whenever, the floods occur, some people earn a lot of money The contractors that construct these embankments newly construct them after every flood and earn a lot of money

Downsides of Embankments

In 2017, the Ministry of Highways decided to build a 1300 km long highway beside the Brahmaputra in Assam There’d also be an embankment along the highway to prevent flooding After 2017, there have been no updates to map its progress but a lot of people are against the construction of such a huge highway and such a huge embankment A lot of environmentalists claim that construction of embankments leads to an increase in flooding

The flow of the river increases dramatically and if these embankments are not properly constructed, the flow of the river would be stronger, they would break with a higher intensity as a result of which the nearby residents will face more floods and more destruction A 2018 study stated that the river Mississippi in the U.S. Due to embankments and “river engineering” there are chances of occurrence

Netherlands Case Study

What is the solution? The solution lies hidden in the Netherlands Netherlands is the world’s best country in matters of flood control You can see the best proof of this in these two photos The first photo is of the 1300s. The second one is of 2019 You can see how much land have they reclaimed from the sea That is the lands that lay inundated previously, was taken out from the water Doing this would mean, obviously, that the chances of flooding in these areas are extremely high because actually, it used to be a sea earlier

So, obviously, they undertook a lot of flood control measures They did massive things to achieve all this They have written down in their constitution that the Dutch people have a right to be protected from flooding You can imagine how seriously they must treat this to have it written even in their constitution They have very high standards regarding flood safety Whenever they adopt a new flood control measure then they do so while keeping in mind a huge and colossal flood that occurs once in 10,000 years Our country should be safe from even that.

None of our cities should get flooded from even that. For comparison, the standard in the USA is that of a 100 years to prevent floods in a 100 years In Netherlands, it is to prevent floods in 10,000 years They’ve done a lot of big and small things to achieve all of this Their technology is extremely good in matters of flood prevention They’ve installed high tech sensors and constructed mighty infrastructure projects But I’d not like to talk about all of this I’d like to focus on a very small and basic thing of theirs In the past few years, Netherlands initiated a project called “Room for River Project” They realized that its not always good to build huge machinery or infrastructure projects To focus on a river’s natural environment and its flow and then construct your infrastructure accordingly Is much better and cheaper in the long run

Solutions

The simplest thing they did was to relocate embankments further away from the rivers that are, the river was given a larger area to flow So whatever small changes occur in the flow of the river, it can spread over a larger area. The problem of sedimentation also reduced drastically So they constructed embankments further away and started to grow trees along the floodplain area inside The natural greenery and natural forestation further enhanced flood protection before the embankments

So, in today’s times, the rivers in the Netherlands look somewhat like this You can see a lot of green area near them and the embankments constructed are so far away from the rivers Another thing they did was to further lower the level of the flood plains this provided more height to the river to flow The river beds were dug up to further lower them so that the river gets more space to flow All the obstacles in the way of the river were removed. You can see this example here.

This allowed the river to flow freely I can recall that free-flowing is something that Professor G.D Aggarwal also used to talk about a free-flowing Ganga After that, special areas were created for water storage A reservoir was created where there’d be flooding If a flood occurs, all the water starts collecting there at one place So these are some simple steps that the Netherlands adopted under its “Room for River Project” I feel this would not be too difficult to implement in India I hope that while constructing such lengthy highways and embankments along with it, it keeps such small things in consideration Rivers should be given a larger area for a free flow so that flood prevention becomes easier

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