Chandan Kumar Duarah
Though flood is a recurring feature in this part of India, the recent deluge is quite unmatched.
Of late, the Northeastern part of the country is experiencing the impact of climate change through excessive rainfall, heavy and flash floods, an early or late monsoon, longer summer, drought-like situation, rise in temperature, increasing pest population. Climate change in the region is found to be accelerated with large amount of carbon emission and deforestation in the North East.
Assam suffers from floods every year but this year’s flood is the worst in a decade. So, the government needs to update its plan to prevent floods. Experts observe that after a heavy precipitation event, there is less water vapour in the atmosphere, and therefore, dry spells tend to linger. In the absence of rain, extra heat exacerbates drying and can contribute to longer and more intense drought periods. So, it is feared that the Northeastern region may suffer from extreme drought.
Professor Nayan Sarma, IIT-Roorkee, has said the possible reason for the recent floods in Assam is the changes taking place in the climate. He said a study done under an Indo-German Project indicates the likely impact of climate change with the temperature projected to increase in the Brahmaputra basin in the coming decades, the higher values being in the Tibetan Plateau. Parameters directly dependent on temperature like potential evatranspiration are also assumed to show clear rising trend. This will have a severe impact on the hydrology of the Brahmaputra river basin. Different climate change indicators point to more frequent and prolonged droughts, Sarma added.
As in most emergency situation, children and women are the worst affected. They are in critical need of nutritional support and protection during this tumultuous time. These situations heighten vulnerability and expose them to abuse and threaten their very survival. Drinking water, dry food, hygiene kits, temporary shelter and infant supplementary foods are needed for these flood-hit people. Moreover, the post-flood problems heighten the risk of water-borne diseases in affected areas.
The existing water sources (well, hand pump and tube wells) are submerged and contaminated by floodwater. The stagnant water and lack of mosquito nets also raise the risk of malaria in the affected areas. Cases of viral fever and cold are reported among children. Doctors also visit these areas on rare occasions.
Floods and erosion pose a grave risk for the entire Brahmaputra valley. Globally, the Brahmaputra river system is perhaps the only one known for its loss of about 100 sq km of land per year due to bank erosion. While some districts of Assam are struggling to get rid of erosion, food scarcity and other post-flood problems, another wave of flood hits five other districts of the State - Bongaigaon, Chirang, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji. Both current waves of floods in the State have affected nearly 25000000 people in 23 districts.
The first flood in Assam affected more than 15 lakh people including children in 23 districts of which Sonitpur, Morigaon and Nagaon were the worst hit. Over 500000 people continue to live in relief camps. The second wave of flood pushed lakh of people to leave their inundated homes. About 124 people died due to the devastating floods. Over 90 per cent of hand pumps were submerged in the floodwaters.
Agriculture was among the worst affected sectors. The crop loss has been estimated well over 50 per cent. The Kaziranga National Park and the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park bore the brunt of the recent waves of floods.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is prepared to support India and Bangladesh, the South Asian countries that are experiencing heavy rains and flooding, a top UN official said. “The office is monitoring the situation in both countries and stands ready to support if the authorities request international assistance,” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky was quoted as saying.
In the absence of rain, extra heat exacerbates drying and can contribute to longer and more intense drought periods. So, it is feared that the eastern and Northeastern regions may suffer from extreme drought.