Assam Floods: Death toll mounts to 86 even as water recedes

                          Animals moving towards elevated lands as the water level rises. (Source: AP)

Criticism mounts against the state government for not taking long-term measures.

Highlights:

  • Death toll rises to 86 as of July 29
  • More than 200 animals succumb to the floods
  • Centre releases Rs 251.52 crore as relief
  • 826 relief centres opened

Assam, which has been grappling with massive floods since July 8, has taken a toll of 86 lives and caused extensive damage to property. In just 20 days, the death toll rose to from xx on July to 86. According to government data,  38.82 lakh people in 20 out of the 33 districts were affected while two lakh people were sheltered in relief camps.

 

The heavy downpour triggering the floods caused a breach in the embankment of river Pagladia, which further aggravated the situation. Consequently, 2,933 villages were inundated to date. As the Brahmaputra River flooded, the Kaziranga National Park situated on its banks lost more than 200 animals including 11 one-horned rhinoceros. As observed by the UNESCO, Kaziranga is home to over two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinoceros.

Animals are reported to be fleeing from the national park to seek shelter in drylands. As a result of this, many animals are getting caught in accidents. In a measure to ensure the safety of the animals of Kaziranga, forest officials are patrolling the area in boats.

The death and destruction caused by the disaster have been increasing swiftly every day since July 8, 2019. After the water level in the Brahmaputra River, passing through Guwahati, reached its highest level since 2004, the floodwater began receding. However, the situation worsened when the floodwater started re-entering some districts.

Most of the northeastern part of India, including Assam, lies in a seismic zone. This has proved the entire area to be volatile and flood-prone. According to a paper published in the International Journal for Scientific Research and Development, the sediments carried by the Brahmaputra River raise the water bed up to 3 metres and reduce the water carrying capacity of the river. Taking all that into account, it only seems natural that Assam faces floods every year. However, despite the disaster not being a surprise, the preparedness for it seems inadequate.

Satellite data depicts the flow of water in Brahmaputra River in July. (Source: ESA Sentinel 1A)

What has been done so far for Assam?

On July 16, the Centre released Rs 251.52 crore as a part-payment for Assam. On July 27, the Uttarakhand government assured that it stands with Assam and extended a helping hand by donating Rs 5 crore. Apart from the government, celebrities too have been making sure to help the disaster-struck state. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar donated Rs 1 crore each for the CM’s Relief Fund and the Kaziranga National Park rescue. Even veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan contributed Rs 51 lakh to the state. Sprinter Hima Das gave half of a month’s salary towards the CM’s relief fund.

Help, however, has not just been coming from celebrities. Locals too have been taking a stand to rise up from the calamity. Many people from Assam have been proactive in providing relief to the affected.

 

Inadequacy of relief operations

The help of 826 operational relief centres and several relief-distribution centres hasn’t been able to mitigate the mass destruction caused by the floods. Even with the help of the Indian army, the rescue and relief operation couldn’t save the lives of 86 people.

Most of the state population remained affected by the flood and the state authority’s rescue and relief measures visibly failed.

Government and Assam – a flood-prone state

The state of Assam is prone to floods and earthquakes. However, if that is the case then why are no significant steps being taken to, if not prevent, at least soften the blows of the deluge? Shockingly, during the initial three days of the heavy downpour in Assam, two districts and 145 villages were affected. However, in response, only five relief camps were set up and 200 people were provided shelter.

Preventive solutions that can be adopted

What Assam primarily needs is a proper warning system. According to reports from India Today, Assam has WhatsApp groups to warn people of the rising water levels. Such arrangements on a more mass-scale and a higher technical state would prove a lot in warning people.

Local water bodies can be revived to provide a natural water drainage system. Embankments can also be constantly checked to ensure breaches do not happen.

Related Links

Monsoon misery: Assam’s annual tryst with floods

These satellite images show the severity of the floods in Assam and Bihar

Excessive water from Bhutan hydropower plant worsens flood situation in Assam

Uttarakhand government donates Rs 5 crore for Assam flood relief

(Coordinator: Shruti; Newswriting: Ratan Priya and Ramya; Social media: Shipra, Shubham and Urmi; Data and infographics: Shruti; Videos: Shipra and Shubham)