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Flood and Misery

The annual event in Assam, flood is back. And this time too like earlier years a sense of despondency, hopelessness and helplessness has engulfed everyone affected by the rising waters. Flood is a perennial problem and no one can fight nature, but the least we can do is to prepare ourselves to combat the fury of nature bravely since it has become an annual feature. The flood situation continues to be critical with three persons dead and several rivers flowing over their danger levels in the very first wave in the State. The State’s southern district of Hailakandi is the worst hit by in this year’s first wave of flood with over two lakh population affected. Of the 331 villages, 231 are reeling under flood waters with major rivers – the Katakhal, Dholeswari and the Barak – flowing above their danger levels. During this time of the year, news related to flood and misery of people becomes an everyday story in newspapers, and the State Government gleefully shares the statistics related to it with alarming punctuality. But what misses the eye is an effort by the State administration to tackle the growing menace. This fact is corroborated by a recent Union Ministry report which painted a grim picture of North Eastern States’ preparedness to tackle natural calamities. According to a Disaster Resilient Index prepared by the Union Home Ministry, five NE States stand at the bottom of the index. The index has placed Assam – which is highly vulnerable to earthquake, floods and landslide – in the fourth position. The State is lagging behind Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra in taking effective steps to tackle natural disasters. On a scale of 100, Assam has secured 41.9 points – 50 in risk assessment, 27 in risk prevention and mitigation, 54 in risk governance, 46 in disaster preparedness, 42 in disaster response, 39 in disaster relief and rehabilitation and 29 in disaster reconstruction. Tripura has secured the seventh position while Sikkim, another disaster-prone State, has been placed in the 16th position in the Disaster Resilient Index. Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have secured 28th, 27th and 26th positions respectively in the index, just ahead of Jharkhand at the bottom. While Mizoram was in 22nd position, Meghalaya came 21st. The Disaster Resilient Index has exposed the underbelly of various State governments’ lack of preparedness to effectively deal with a crisis situation in times of natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and landslides. The index is also a sordid tale of effort of the governments in tackling situations like flood which have become an annual feature. The scant regard for human lives and property by those at the helm of affairs is nothing new to write about, but the tall claims of the respective governments to save lives and property during natural calamities get punctured in many ways. Talking specifically of flood in Assam and efforts of politicians, who are in power to combat natural disasters and reduce human sufferings, we have seen that statistics are doled out of monetary losses, loss to agricultural land due to flood. The cry of respective State governments to declare flood as a national calamity till now has been ignored by the Centre. However, it does appear that other than blaming the Centre for inaction our politicians have done precious little on the ground to remain better prepared to tackle this annual menace. When the BJP-led government came to power in the State, it promised that it would holistically study the flood problem and find out a long-lasting solution. One of the measures talked about much was the dredging of the mighty Brahmaputra for the accommodation of extra water during the monsoon. An expert team was formed to study the water flow of the Brahmaputra and suggest ways to implement the ambitious Rs 40,000-crore project. However, on the ground little seems to have moved with the detail project report on dredging is yet to be prepared. From 1912 to 1996, it has been estimated that Assam lost 2,358 sq. km of land due to erosion and flood. Other than dredging, which is a high-cost affair, the government was advised by experts to find other ways of taming the swollen waters of the Brahmaputra during the monsoon. Till date, from the State-level nothing concrete has come out, and all the projects related to flood have become a paper tiger. In such a scenario, millions of people are virtually left to fend for themselves.
Occasional photo opportunity by politicians during floods has also become a regular feature and flood politics reigns supreme during the monsoon every year. Though it is too late, yet our political bosses need to take notice of the situation and act efficiently to come up with a long-lasting solution so that during floods the miseries of the common people, who have voted them to power, could be reduced, if not eliminated completely.