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Living with floods

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The flood situation in Assam has been going from bad to worse with each passing day. Incessant rain in the catchment areas, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Bhutan, has sent down massive quantities of water, causing the Brahmaputra, the Barak and most of their tributaries to flow over the red mark. Large tracts of agricultural land and hundreds of villages have been inundated. Roads and bridges have been washed away. A number of persons have lost their lives, while the loss in terms of standing crop, homesteads, cattle and other farm animals and poultry has also been immense. The authorities have banned the plying of ferries and boats on the Brahmaputra and most other rivers lest valuable lives are lost due to mishaps. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who has held several rounds of discussions with top officials to take stock of the situation, has also apprised the Union Home Minister of the flood situation. While floods have become an annual scourge for Assam, what has been most disturbing is that there has been little effort on the part of the Union government to look at it from a practical and holistic point of view. What the Centre probably fails to understand is that most of the funds that are spent every year in creating vital infrastructure like roads, embankments, bridges, schools, hospitals etc go waste because of the annual ritual of floods. Thus, while states which do not have such major flood problems have been marching ahead, Assam has been mostly stagnant if not moving backwards in terms of development. With floods the people are also compelled to spend huge amounts on healthcare when the state is hit by various water-borne diseases. The Centre should understand that the more than fifty per cent of the reasons behind the Assam floods lie outside the state. Massive destruction of forests and green cover in Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya is one reason why river-beds in Assam are rising, thus causing the rivers to overflow more often and easily than before. Occupation of land on the river-bed and river-banks – most of which is illegal – on the other hand has caused severe obstruction to the natural flow of the rivers. There was a time when erosion was naturally prevented by thick vegetation of elephant grass, reed, thatch and other plants. With suspected illegal migrants and their descendents occupying every inch of land by the rivers, the Brahmaputra and its tributaries are bound to cause erosion, as also loss to human lives. Occupation of wetlands that are interconnected with the rivers is also another reason behind floods, because wetlands are like the lungs that absorp a lot of flood waters. Moreover, dumping all kinds of waste – from plastic to industrial waste to idol immersion – has also rendered the rivers unhealthy. There is an urgent need to make a thorough study of the anthropogenic reasons that have aggravated the flood situation in Assam every passing year. Simply indulging in a blame game is not enough. Everyone, from the government to the individual citizen, needs to work with a sense of responsibility.