Flood of struggles

Assam’s worst flood in 8 years causes damages that contrast with funds received

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Guwahati | Published: July 2, 2012 12:41 am

In 2004,when Assam was struck by its last major flood,the state and Central governments announced a series of measures to strengthen control and protection measures. Several hundred crores of rupees have since been literally sunk into the Brahmaputra.

Over the last two weeks,Assam has been devastated by its worst flood in those eight years. The flood has washed away 20 bridges and culverts and damaged 191 bridges in addition to washing away or damaging approaches to 575 bridges and 230 culverts. The Brahmaputra has breached 42 on its embankments,mostly in the districts of Tinsukia,Dhemaji and Sonitpur,besides Majuli island in Jorhat. Assam has 4,465km of embankments along its rivers,most of them now weaker.

Funds to strengthen these embankments have never appeared short. The state has got Rs 979 crore from various sources for flood management over the past decade. This is in addition to $142 million received as ADB assistance for the “Assam Integrated Flood & River Bank Erosion Risk Management” project. Assam has lost 4.29 lakh hectares,7.40 per cent of its area,to riverbank erosion since 1954,with 1.30 lakh families left landless.

There has been a demand for several years for declaring the state’s floods a “national problem”. A promise was made in 1995 by Manmohan Singh,MP from Assam since 1991 and now prime minister. The declaration is yet to come.

This year,the flood has killed at least 77 persons and 10 remain missing. “The number will go up. Only today two more persons have been reported missing,while there have been reports of a few more bodies recovered,” said government spokesperson Nilamoni Sen Deka. “The water has shown signs of receding in some districts,but is still above the red mark in Jorhat (Nimatighat),Tezpur,Guwahati,Goalpara and Dhubri.”

According to the Regional Meteorological Centre in Guwahati,Assam received 508.6mm rainfall between June 1 and 27 — 31 per cent in excess of the normal 388.2mm. Nearly 20 lakh people have been affected,with five lakh put up in relief camps set up by the authorities. Many are stranded in knee-deep water in their houses,unable to move for fear of losing their belongings.

The toll is already higher than in 2004,when over 50 died and 15 lakh were affected. That flood caused losses of Rs 5,000 crore and submerged 22.43 lakh hectares,damaging 7.75 lakh hectares cropland and affecting half the state’s livestock population.

The Assam relief manual,last revised in 1976,prescribes rice at 600 grams per adult and 400 grams per child per day,in addition to 100 grams of dal and 30 grams each of salt and mustard oil per head per day. There is,however,no mention of specific rations for infants,pregnant women,lactating mothers and the elderly.

Homeless force

Six years after the 1st Battalion of the National Disaster Response Force was assigned the responsibility of the Northeastern states,it is tackling the flood from a temporary location with costly equipment lying in tin sheds exposed to the conditions.

The NDRF has since June 24 rescued over 11,000 persons. It says the absence of a permanent base,for which it is negotiating with the government,has hampered rescue work and raised costs. Its headquarters is temporarily housed in the BSF Assam frontier HQ at Patgaon near Guwahati. Teams are being roped in from NDRF Kolkata,too,and these again have to be put up in temporary locations.

“The time we have spent mobilising teams for rescue operations from various locations could have been cut down if all the teams were located on one campus. It would also cut down the additional administrative costs now spent in multiple locations,” said Alok Kumar Singh,commandant,1 NDRF.

“We want between 70 to 85 acres for development of our Northeast hub,” Singh said. “It would also have a multi-disciplinary training centre that would benefit the entire Northeast. We have more than Rs 250 crore waiting to be invested in the centre once we get a campus.”

One plot that the government tried to give was found unsuitable,besides being under litigation. Near Chandubi,about 40km from Guwahati,it was found too far from main roads,the airport and railway stations. The current location is close to the airport but far from stations. “Most of the equipment is kept in temporary tin sheds and is unsafe,exposed to humidity and rainfall,” Singh said.

In April,National Disaster Managament Authority vice-chairman M Sashidhar Reddy took up the request for a permanent campus with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

The damage

20 lakh affected

77 killed,10 missing

20 bridges and culverts washed away,191 bridges damaged

42 embankments breached by Brahmaputra

Kaziranga’s worries: drowning and hit & run

Assam’s worst flood in eight years has taken a heavy toll on the Kaziranga National Park,inundating 80 per cent of its 800sq km area and exposing its animals to highway traffic as they head for shelter in drier areas.

Two adult rhinos and a calf,22 hog deer and one elephant calf have died due to the floods,while 17 hog deer have been run over while crossing NH-37. “There has been extensive damage to roads and bridges inside the park,” park director S K Bora said. Since Thursday,he said,the two ageing rhinos and the calf have died because they could not negotiate the swirling waters.

Flood waters had been trickling into the park for a fortnight and the level rose sharply on June 26 due to rains in the catchment areas in upper Assam,eastern Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. The effort to protect the animals have left the park’s 900-plus frontline staff on their toes. Over 60 of the 152 watch-camps inside the park are submerged,forcing the squads to patrol from boats.

Park authorities have deployed 250 personnel on the highway that runs along the park for 50km. “Over 200 volunteers of various NGOs,too,are helping us check speeding,” Bora said.

Park authorities,in collaboration with the police of Golaghat and Nagaon districts (Kaziranga is spread across three districts,including Sonitpur) have set up barricades on the highway. Highway vehicles are being given time-cards at each end of the park,which they have to deposit at the other end by covering the 50km in not less than 45 minutes,or pay a fine.

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