Floods from Monsoon Rains Wreak Havoc Across India

Jhumur Deb
2016.07.29
Guwahati, India
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160729-IN-floods-620.jpg A cow jumps from a boat as villagers transport it to dry land amid flooding in Kamrup, a district in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, July 27, 2016.
AFP

For the past three years during the monsoon season, Mussadar Ali has had to move from one area to another in search of higher ground.

This year was no different because flood waters completely inundated his village in northeast India’s Assam state.

Ali is one of nearly 1.3 million people facing homelessness as a result of severe flooding this year in Assam, where the death toll from the natural disaster had reached 13 on Friday.

“Every year Assam gets flooded. And every year, when the water recedes politicians make promises that they will ensure this does not happen again. But look at this,” Ali, a 49-year-old laborer whose nearly five hectares (12.3 acres) of cultivable land were destroyed in monsoonal flooding, told BenarNews.

He pointed toward water-logged plains in the distance, from his makeshift tent on an elevated bank in Majkuchi village, about 100 km (62 miles) from state capital Guwahati.

“In fact, this year the flooding is worse than ever,” he said.

Assam is one of eight Indian states stricken by floods from monsoonal rains, and where at least 140 people have died in flooding since the onset of the season in June, according to India’s National Disaster Management Division (NDMD). More than 100 of those deaths have occurred in the last two weeks.

Nearly 375 villages from 89 districts across the states of Assam, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have reported flooding that has affected over 5 million people, the NDMD said on its website.

On Friday flood situations were reported in the south Indian state of Karnataka and the northern state of Haryana, where TV channels broadcast images of serpentine traffic jams and people fishing on arterial roads.

Authorities in affected states said that the figures released by the NDMD were understated.

National park flooded

In Assam alone, flood waters have submerged more than 1,560 villages in 18 districts, affecting more than 2 million people, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), which oversees relief and rescue operations, said in its latest bulletin.

The swelling Brahmaputra River, which runs through the state, is flowing well above the danger mark, topping embankments and inundating entire villages, an ASDMA official said.

“Floods are like an annual ritual in Assam but we have not seen flooding like this in the last five years,” Deepak Sharma, the agency’s chief executive officer, told BenarNews.

Officials said the rising river water also inundated nearly 80 percent of the state’s Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the Great One-Horned Rhinoceros.

“Aside from a few isolated incidents, we haven’t yet witnessed large-scale migration of animals to the highlands. But if the situation persists, it is bound to spell trouble for the animals at the reserve,” Kaziranga divisional forest officer Suvasish Das told BenarNews.

The state’s meteorological department ruled out any immediate relief from the rain.

“Heavy rainfall is likely over the next three days, and this trend will continue for some time,” said Sunit Das of the Regional Meteorological Center.

Money for relief slow to come

Assam loses nearly 8,000 hectares (19,760 acres) annually through flooding and erosion, according to government data.

Figures available through the state’s disaster management agency show 32 people died from flooding in 2012, 44 in 2014 and 64 in 2015. This has happened as successive central governments resisted acting on pleas by authorities in Assam to declare floods and erosion there as a national calamity.

“Flooding and erosion is on our priority list. We have approached the central government and it has promised to dispatch a team to Assam soon to assess the current flood situation. We have also sought additional funds for relief and rehabilitation,” State Water Resources Minister Keshab Mahanta told BenarNews.

The minister, however, noted that 10.5 billion rupees (U.S. $157.3 million) sought from the central government to carry out repair works after last year’s floods was still due.

But experts blamed the state government for failing to address the problem of flooding and erosion in the ecologically fragile region.

“Large-scale deforestation and siltation in rivers have reduced the water-holding capacities of the state’s water bodies. And after the great earthquake of 1950, the Brahmaputra River has become more unstable and much care should be taken in dealing with it to put a brake on further devastation,” Bibhab Talukdar of Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based environmental NGO, told BenarNews.

“There are more than 500 embankments in Assam covering an area of nearly 5,000 sq km [1,930 square miles] and nearly 70 percent of these are extremely vulnerable to flood and erosion. But the government has made no effort to address these issues,” he said.

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