Managing floods in Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park (KNP) being located on floodplains of the Brahmaputra, annual flooding of the park areas is a natural phenomenon.
Managing floods in Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park (KNP) being located on floodplains of the Brahmaputra, annual flooding of the park areas is a natural phenomenon. Multiple factors affecting the flow of this river and also the silt it carries during monsoon, management of annual floods and checking erosion of the World Heritage Site are critical to conservation of its wildlife. The National Highway-715 (erstwhile NH 37) through KNP along its southern boundary intersects the animal corridors of the park; and, therefore witnesses migration of animals towards the highlands of Kaziranga in the Karbi Anglong landscape for shelter by animals fleeing the flooded park areas. Famous for the one-horned rhino, Royal Bengal tigers and various rare and endangered wildlife and rich biodiversity attract scientists, researchers, and tourists from all over the world and conservation of the park habitat, protection of the wildlife of the World Heritage Site is of paramount importance not just for the State but for the entire global community. Increase in the number of vehicles along the National Highway has posed a tougher challenge for the Park authorities to protect the Park animals from vehicle-hit during floods. The appeal made by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to truckers and drivers of other vehicles to avoid the National Highway through the Park; and use NH-15 through the northern bank of the river for commuting between western and eastern Assam is timely and critical to reduce the risk to Park animals during their migration due to flood. While Bogibeel and Kalibhomora Bridges over river Brahmaputra provide the alternative route along NH-15 through the north bank, the cost effectiveness of this detour will be a major factor influencing responses to the appeal by commercial vehicles owners. Owners of private vehicles by responding positively to the appeal can set an example for the owners of trucks and other commercial vehicles for their commitment for conservation of Kaziranga and its wildlife. Such a positive response can also help the State government to pursue with the Central government the need to expedite the ambitious project of building an elevated corridor through Kaziranga -- along the 35-km stretch of NH-715 -- to ensure the safe migration of Park animals not just during floods but anytime of the year. During floods, the Park authorities enforce speed limit and timecards to regulate the speed of vehicles which slow down the traffic along the long stretch of 54 km from Ghorakati to Bokakhat. Besides, construction of the elevated corridor will ensure the unhindered movement of all kinds of vehicles through the Park without causing any obstruction to animal migration.

Deposition of silts in the wetlands of KNP during floods make the waterbodies shallow. Hence, desilting the wetlands and beels of the park is important to maintain the water-holding capacity at optimal level. The Brahmaputra carries more silt during floods due to the massive level of deforestation in the watersheds of it upper reaches and turns shallow the large wetlands of the Park at a much faster rate. When shallow beels inside the Park get dried up during winter and peak summer before the rainy season, rhinos and other animals often move to the river along the park boundaries; and in the process, get exposed to human habitation. Park authorities have been experimenting between desilting measures and rainwater harvesting needs to be evaluated by domain experts as to which strategy works better. Such evaluation studies will help the Park authorities to revisit the management plan and prepare a longterm strategy. It will aid to rule out the sustainability issues in the future -- from any short-term strategy -- to deal with the flood-related management problems. Erosion of the core area of KNP by the Brahmaputra has spiralled into an alarming problem over the years for want of effective intervention to check it. Gradual southward shifting of the Brahmaputra poses a grave challenge of severe progressing erosion of the Park areas unless effective mitigation measures are not put in place. The historic Arimora Inspection Bungalow in the easternmost part of the park constructed in 1956 was completely washed away in 2013 due to advancing erosion. An ADB (Asian Development Bank)-funded anti-erosion project for Kaziranga taken up by the 'Flood & River Erosion Management Agency' triggered hopes for checking the loss of area due to erosion. But delay in the implementation of project is a cause of concern. If not checked, progressing erosion will pose space constraints for the animals in the Park into a problem of unmanageable scale. Factoring the cumulative impact of the mega hydropower dams in Arunachal Pradesh has become crucial for articulating the long-term strategy of the Park management. A comprehensive study on the possible downstream impact is the call of the hour for devising timely mitigation measures for the conservation of wildlife population; and, the rich biodiversity of the national park. Kaziranga needs annual floods to replenish its waterbodies with fresh water and revitalise its grasslands. However, the changing nature of floods due to the increasing sediment load of the Brahmaputra demands that flood management of Kaziranga gets priority in the longterm conservation plan.

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