Pre-monsoon rains first hit Assam last month, flooding large parts of the valley and displacing millions of people. The first of the Assam floods occurred in May, and no one expected that the arrival of the monsoon would cause the floods to worsen. By June 19, floods in Assam breached 297 embankments in 20 districts.
According to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), around 200,000 people displaced from their homes by the flood are taking shelter in 564 relief camps across the state. The Assam floods have so far affected 2,524 villages in the state across 27 districts. The death toll today stands at 127.
People living in relief camps in Assam’s Nellie region, Morigaon district, are at risk of wildlife conflict in Nellie’s Khulahat Forest’s elephant corridor. Camp residents said that a few elephants come very close to the camp. They cannot sleep due to constant fear of rising water levels and the tuskers straying into camp.
Due to scarcity of provisions, many in camps get only one meal a day. People in relief camps and partially inundated houses also face drinking water scarcity. Residents of the Khulahat Forest camp have resorted to digging 2-3 feet-deep pits to find water for drinking and cooking.
The Assam floods have even submerged farmlands and crop fields. Experts have estimated that the floods have caused a loss of more than 50,000 rupees for every farmer in Assam. Farmers in the state have said their paddy fields have been inundated with water from overflowing rivers. They’re now trying to catch fish in the waters submerging their fields. They hope to cook the fish along with rice and lentils they receive in relief packages. However, many of them are unable to catch fish.
According to government data, the floods have damaged 91,658 hectares of cropland in the state. Agriculture in Assam accounts for 75% of state revenue and 53% of livelihoods. The damage to croplands has therefore raised serious concerns. On average, farmers have lost 2-3 acres of land under rice cultivation to the floods. Some have lost up to 50 acres of rice fields.
Farmers in the state are concerned that, even if they plant new crops once the floods subside, they will get swept away again when rivers swell during the monsoon. The monsoons in Assam last up to October.
Residents of Assam have said that this is the worst flooding event they have ever witnessed. Data shows that the current floods in Assam are the worst in 122 years.
Wildlife Threatened by Flood Waters
Assam’s Morigaon district is home to the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. About 107 rhinos live in the wildlife reserve. Range officers said the floods inundated two wildlife camps in the sanctuary while another eight were severely affected.
The floods have also severely affected wildlife at Assam’s Orang National Park in the Darrang district. The overflowing of the Brahmaputra River and its tributary Dhanshri has submerged a large area of the park. Out of the total 41 forest protection camps in the park, as many as 13 have been submerged by flood waters. The park’s forest guards are keeping a strict vigil on boats and elephants for the movement of poachers, even as the rising water levels threaten their own safety. They are worried that poachers might take advantage of the floods to hunt animals.
An official statement from Kaziranga National Park said that the Assam floods killed at least five animals, including a leopard. The overflowing of the Brahmaputra River, which passes through the park, has caused the inundation of more than 15% of the park area. Water has surpassed the danger level in several places. Officials said that animals from the park routinely cross over to higher reaches bordering the Karbi Anglong district during floods. To reach the neighborhood, they have to cross a national highway that cuts through the park. Three hog deer and one leopard were hit by vehicles on the highway while trying to cross over to the district. Another hog deer rescued from the flood waters died. The park authorities have so far rescued three hog deer and one python from the floods. The Assam floods have inundated 44 camps out of 223 inside Kaziranga National Park.
The overflowing of the Brahmaputra has crossed safety limits at Numaligarh, Nematighat, Tezpur, and Dhansiri Mukh. The river’s flooding has severely affected the national parks through which it flows.
What Is Causing Floods in Assam?
The geography and topography of Northeast India already make it flood-prone and one of the highest rainfall zones in the world. Additionally, many Himalayan Rivers flow through Assam, debouching into its plains and causing flash floods during incessant rainfall. Even hydroelectric power plants contribute to floods in the state. But to cause the worst floods in almost a century requires more than just a bad location, sloppy management, and overflowing rivers. It requires a changing climate.
As per a climate change report by the Assam State Government, global warming will lead to more frequent and severe Assam floods. Extreme rainfall events in the state will increase by 38% as climate change progresses. Heavy rainfall and melting glaciers mean that Himalayan Rivers will carry more water and sediment before they even enter Assam. Overflowing Himalayan Rivers coupled with swollen rain-fed rivers in Assam means low-lying areas in the state will witness frequent flash floods.
Of course, poor disaster management, governance, and bad city planning have a considerable role to play in the state flooding every year. But, causing the worst floods in over a century and large-scale destruction can only happen because of climate change fuelled by a warming planet.
The Assam floods are yet another reminder for us that climate change is real and it is here. Most of us speak about climate change as it will happen in the distant future. We talk about it like it will not impact our generation, and we have nothing to worry about. But, climate change is already ravaging lives and livelihoods; one only has to look at the situation in Assam to know this is true. Climate change is disrupting flora and fauna, agriculture, and industries. We must wake up and realize the impact of our actions on the environment and on people that contribute the least to global warming.
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