North East Matters:  Assam Floods and Lack of attention to North East Issues in National Media.

#GS3 #Disaster Management

#GS2 #Development




Assam Floods: Same Tragedy Year After Year

  • Floods in Assam is a very serious problem; it occurs almost every year. People of Assam face this grim situation every year and are forced to deal with a lot of destruction due to this cruel natural disaster.
  • Almost 40% of the total land area in the state is flood-prone. 
  • The rivers Brahmaputra and Barak have more than 50 tributaries, which primarily cause floods during monsoons. 


Recent Developments

  • Flood situation in the state has gone from bad to worse this year too with the death toll in the two waves of floods since May 22 reaching 71. Landslides across the State during this period claimed 26 more lives. Landslides and floods have also killed at least 12 people in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.
  • The Number of affected people has increased to 39.8 lakh. The number of people who took shelter in relief camps also increased to 49,313. The flood­ displaced people have taken refuge in 303 relief camps across 19 districts
  • The water level in the 1,055 sq km KNP remained stagnant after falling a day ago. 
  • About 90% of the park remains submerged with 99 of the 223 anti­poaching camps inundated. 
  • About 5 One­-horned rhinos have drowned in Kaziranga. Another rhino died in Pobitora Sanctuary near Guwahati.
  • It affects the lakhs of people every year. But the question remains the same: why aren’t the Assam floods a national problem?


Why are floods so destructive in Assam?

1.Nature of the river Brahmaputra: 

  • Dynamic and unstable. Its 580,000 sq km basin spreads over four countries: China, India, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, with diverse environments. 
  • In terms of sediment yield, two spots along the Brahmaputra's course were at second and third places in 2008, behind the Yellow River whose annual sediment yield is 1,403 tonnes per sq km.
  • The Brahmaputra’s annual sediment yield was 1,128 tonnes per sq km at Bahadurabad of Bangladesh, and 804 tonnes per sq km at Pandu of Guwahati.
  • The vast amount of sediment comes from Tibet, where the river originates. “That region is cold, arid, and lacks plantation. Glaciers melt, soil erodes and all of it results in a highly sedimented river.
  • By the time the river enters Assam — a state comprising primarily floodplains surrounded by hills on all sides — it deposits vast amounts of this silt, leading to erosion and floods.
  • As the river comes from a high slope to a flat plain, its velocity decreases suddenly and this results in the river unloading the sediment.
  • Again, because of the earthquake-prone nature of the region, the river has not been able to acquire a stable character.
  • Following the devastating earthquake of 1950, the level of the Brahmaputra rose by two meters in the Dibrugarh area in eastern Assam.

2. Man-made factors: 

  • Besides these natural factors are the man-made ones — habitation, deforestation, population growth in catchment areas (including in China) — which lead to higher sedimentation.
  • For example, the sediment deposition itself creates temporary sandbars or river islands.
  • It is common for people to settle in such places, which restricts the space the river has to flow. When rainfall is heavy, it combines with all these factors and leads to destructive floods. This happens very frequently.


Government Efforts

  • In its master plan on the river in 1982, the Brahmaputra Board had suggested that dams and reservoirs be built to mitigate floods.
  • The idea of dams, however, has traditionally been a double-edged sword. While one of their objectives is to regulate the release of floodwaters, the release when it comes can sometimes be beyond the capacity of the channels downstream.
  • In the Brahmaputra basin, locals and environmentalists protested against dam-building plans on grounds of displacement and destruction of ecology, preventing the plans from moving forward.


Building embankments

  • As such, the government has been using only one approach towards floods: building embankments on the river. “Embankments were proposed only as an interim and ad hoc measure for short-term mitigation,” said Aaranyak’s Das. Their lack of durability has often been on display.
  • “Most embankments built in the 1980s are not strong enough.
  • Since they were temporary measures, the government did not spend on high-specification embankments. These are weak and are regularly breached.



  • The government also considered dredging, basically digging up the riverbed and making the river “deeper”. 
  • However, experts have strongly advised against this simply because the Brahmaputra sediment yield is among the highest in the world.



Some of the long-term solutions for the flood situation are:

  • Rejuvenation of wetlands
  • Reconstruction of embankments
  • Increasing the water carrying capacity of rivers by dredging them
  • Constructing reservoirs to hold water during monsoon
  • Increasing forest cover
  • Construction of storage dams upstream
  • Decentralized weather forecast
  • Clearing the drainage system in urban areas
  • Development of extensive and effective rainwater harvesting plans
  • Control of population growth.
  • For a sustainable solution, there needs to be “a basin-wide approach” to the problem.
  • An “integrated basin management” system that should ideally bring in all the basin-sharing countries on board
  • Addressing the issues only in Assam when the flood strikes aren’t the solution — one needs the countries to come to an understanding about taking measures in the catchment areas.
  • For that, interstate relationships, political cooperation, and the role of the government are important.
  • Flood-plain zoning, which is done in the US. Depending on the vulnerability of the area, divide them into categories, and accordingly ban certain activities on it: like farming, building a house, etc.
  • We can’t help the rain but we can certainly control the damage caused by floods. 
  • The government needs to take these initiatives to solve or at least reduce the havoc caused by floods in this region.


Lack of Mainstream National Media Attention to North East Issues

  • In the context of the presentation of news in India, it is generally observed that most of the news is circulated, analyzed, and discussed within the sphere of mainland India. 
  • Apart from two-three states, the attention of the national media is primarily hovering around the activities and incidents of Hindi heartlands. 
  • Geographical remoteness of the north-eastern states of India and their distinguishing cultural elements with other parts of mainland India, make it a major constraining factor towards the recognition of their problem as the problem of greater India.
  • When a youth icon from Northeast India, Mary Kom represents India in the forum of world boxing or Hima Das, an emerging sprinter makes India proud in the sphere of global sports, it appears that all the distinguishing markers of cultural and geographical differences get disappeared, or the North-eastern states become assimilated to the greater identity of India.
  • It’s surprising to observe that geographical remoteness and cultural differences in this region are instrumentally used by the national media to portray a stereotypical image of it. 
  • Whenever a natural disaster or severe natural calamity occurs in this region, the national media tries to overlook these incidents. 
  • The people of this region and their agonies are being eclipsed in the deliberately designed policy of cultural othering and regional disparity of the Delhi-based national media.
  • The way national media covers the flash flood in Uttarakhand or Kerala is praiseworthy. But even after the people of Assam have been struggling in the devastating flood, their coverage of these incidents is not at all satisfactory.
  • The national media plays a dual and hypocritical role in terms of coverage of the news related to the northeastern states. 
  • A general characteristic appears from the way North-East issues are covered which signifies that national media houses are keen to depict a lynching-prone, xenophobic, primitive image of the people of Northeastern states. 
  • The enthusiasm to cover incidents like insurgency and crimes disappear when people of this region are enduring national calamities like floods, landslide, or forceful displacement.
  • On one hand, the national media tries to build up a primitive image of the people of this region by continually focusing on the coverage of some brutal incident. But on the other hand, severe problems faced by these people are totally undermined or being presented as a general everyday incident. 
  • In a way, they categorize people of this region as committers of heinous crimes, but on the other hand, they refrain from publishing news about the basic problem like flood, erosion, or landslide in this region.
  • If the national media considers the lynching-prone image of this Northeastern region as part and parcel of the everyday lives of these people, how can they be totally indifferent to publishing the genuine problems of this region?


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