To save the Northeast from floods, it is time to rethink the idea of development
Rampant construction on the floodplains, and a degeneration of other wetlands in the region increase the pressure on the main river, come the monsoons.editorials Updated: Jul 15, 2017 19:35 IST
In what appears to have become a recurring annual problem, Assam and other northeastern states are once again in the grip of an “unprecedented” flood. The situation has yesterday taken an even more grim turn as Union minister of state for development of north eastern region (DoNER) Jitendra Singh confirmed that a total of 58 districts have been affected due to floods and landslides in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur where around 80 lives have been lost so far. Estimates suggest that over 17.43 lakh people in 26 of Assam’s 32 districts continue to remain affected by rising water levels. In the Kaziranga National Park, home to the rare one-horned rhinoceros, nearly 75% of the site has been inundated, forcing animals to take shelter in higher ground.
In spite of the fact that this is an annual occurrence with rivers in this region, which flood every monsoon, the loss of life and property that should be avoidable by taking adequate precautions is also becoming a regular feature. The Brahmaputra river, which is second only to the Amazon in size, eats into the cultivable land in Assam, as it erodes more land every time it floods. While this is a natural occurrence, a large part of the blame for the recurring devastating floods must also go to deforestation in Assam and neighbouring states. While it is commendable that the government has decided to direct authorities to use experts from space technology and ISRO to assess the damage caused by floods and landslides; it is once again, a measure to assuage the damage rather than prevent it.
The Brahmaputra routinely breaches the embankments built to rein it in. The idea that the river can be held in place by building an embankment around it has been proven a bad idea time and again, in various flood-prone states such as Bihar. Rampant construction on the floodplains, and a degeneration of other wetlands in the region increase the pressure on the main river, come the monsoons. With the reality of climate change bringing with it an increasing number of extreme weather events, the situation in the future can be reliably expected to get worse. It is time for the government to rethink the paradigm of development, in which infrastructure is built at great cost on the floodplains; only to incur its loss once the flood hits.