Floods in Assam :Learning from deluge


    In Context 

    This year’s floods in Assam have been merciless. 

    What are Floods ?

    • They are the most frequent type of natural disaster and occur when an overflow of water submerges land that is usually dry. 
    • They are often caused by heavy rainfall, rapid snowmelt or a storm surge from a tropical cyclone or tsunami in coastal areas.
    • They can cause widespread devastation, resulting in loss of life and damages to personal property and critical public health infrastructure

    There are 3 common types of floods:

    • Flash floods :They are caused by rapid and excessive rainfall that raises water heights quickly, and rivers, streams, channels or roads may be overtaken.
    • River floods :They are caused when consistent rain or snow melt forces a river to exceed capacity. 
    • Coastal floods : are caused by storm surges associated with tropical cyclones and tsunamis.

    About Assam’s floods 

    • Assam is hit by several rounds of floods every year and around 40 percent of Assam’s land is prone to floods.
    • Floods have been a way of life for people living in Assam. 
    • The lowlands and riverine areas bear the brunt of the deluge. The flooding pattern is usually repeated year-to-year. 
    • There is no standard pattern to the recurrence of mega, unpredictable floods. 
      • In the last century, they occurred in 1934, 1950, 1954, 1955, 1966, 1988 and 2004.
    • The incidence of such megafloods depends on several variables like unusually high rainfall and the failure of critical embankments.
    • Other man-made factors like deforestation, hill cutting, encroachments and destruction of wetlands have also worsened the flood situation. 
    • Climate change is set to lead to more frequent and severe floods in Assam, 


    Role of floods in the making of the floodplain environment and ecology of Assam

    • Rejuvenate flood-plain ecosystems
      • Floods cause disruption and damage but they also generate a bounty of fish and rejuvenate flood-plain ecosystems all along the Brahmaputra, including in the Kaziranga. 
      • This landscape has been shaped over millions of years with the help of an active monsoonal environment and mighty rivers that carry sediments weathered from the still-rising Himalaya.
    • Over millions of years, this depositing of sediment into the floodplains has produced at least two results: Raising the lowlands and regularly adjusting river beds. 
      • These ensured that impacts of flooding remained moderate.
      • The prosperity and general well-being of a large majority of the population of Assam, especially in rural areas, critically depend on their ability to survive the capricious ways of floods
        • The annual floods were a natural way to enrich the soils, which have a propensity to get depleted.

    Adverse impacts 

    • In many parts of the state, both rural and urban, shoals of water drove people from their homes and forced many of them to seek shelter for their livestock. 
      • In many places, people failed to save standing crops.
    •  Granaries were damaged and mud houses were filled with sand brought by the rivers in spate. 
      •  lakhs of people have been affected in recent floods while 1.08 lakh hectares of crops have been damaged.
    • Floods can adversely reconfigure the landscape.
      • The devastation in the floodplains is also a consequence of the way the dams and reservoirs are operated. 

    Government’s Steps

    • A Flood Management Programme (FMP) was launched during XI Plan for providing assistance to States for works related to flood management and erosion control.
    • Various training programmes are run by the National Water Academy, Pune which serves the objective of the National Flood Management Institute recommended by NDMA. 
    • Central Water Commission (CWC) has initiated actions for expansion and modernisation of its flood forecasting network. 
      • CWC has provided necessary technical guidance to States for the preparation of Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) by concerned dam owners.
    • A Water Resources System (WRIS) has been launched where such digitised data is available.
    •  Flood Plain Zoning
      • It is a concept central to flood plain management. This concept recognises the basic fact that the flood plain of a river is essentially its domain and any intrusion into or developmental activity therein must recognise the river’s ‘right of way’. 

    Conclusion Way Forward 

    • The rapid transformation in rainfall characteristics and flooding patterns demand building people’s resilience
      • Construction projects that impede the movement of water and sediment across the floodplain must be reconsidered. 
    •  The government should plan to install a drainage network linked to pumps to vacuum out stormwater during heavy rain.
    • Prediction using rainfall and storm water modelling and transfer of information to citizens and ward level teams should become part of the management system.
    • The global concept being tried out is called ‘sponge cities’ where the hard crust of urbanisation is converted into a sponge concept with aquifers, wetlands and lakes being included to detain and retain stormwater and convert foods into a water asset stored for later use.
    • Wetlands and local water bodies should be revived in Assam to improve the drainage system, which can act as an exit for excess water and prevent waterlogging. 
      • This would entail clearing human encroachments in the Brahmaputra flood plains. 
    • Embankments should be regularly checked for breaches and systems put in place for maintenance; a first step would be to break the babu-contractor nexus that finds floods an easy way to sponge money from the system.


    [Q] Critically Analyse the Role of floods in the making of the floodplain environment and ecology of the region.