north east flood problem

India has diverse climatic conditions which are influenced by the Himalayas and the Thar Desert, and has four major climatic groupings including tropical wet, tropical dry, subtropical humid, and montane. The climatic conditions are so extremely diverse in India that at the same time in a year some regions face drought while the others face floods.

In the North Eastern part of India, Brahmaputra, the world’s 6th largest river and flowing a length of 918 Km through India with 41 tributaries, is extremely vulnerable and prone to floods during the Monsoons and almost always flows above the danger mark during this time of the year. The excess water breaks the embankments causing severe floods along the route of Brahmaputra as well as the tributaries.

This year has been no different, for large swathes of the seven contiguous Northeast states including Assam, Arunachal, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram were affected by floods. These states are facing the brunt of this natural calamity with 40,000 people across 39 villages in four districts having been affected by floods.

  • The turbulent Imphal River in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district caused havoc.
  • There were landslides in Mizoram which destroyed nearly 450 houses and washed away sections of many arterial roads.
  • Half of Guwahati was in under knee or neck-deep water.
  • The rain and flash floods also destroyed standing crop.

Government Aid

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Guwahati on 1 August, 2017 to review the flood situation as well as the landslide problems that crippled the five north-eastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. Modi has announced the following relief funds for the North East States:

  • An amount of 2,350 crore INR for all north eastern states to work towards mitigating the impact of floods on short and long-term basis.
  • A fund of 100 crore INR to study the course of the Brahmaputra river and its devastating effects which will be conducted by technocrats, scientists, researchers and engineers.  The aim of the study is to find a permanent solution to the bi-annual flood problem in North East India.

Is permanent solution possible for the North East flood?

  • The very first thing that is to be noted is that the floods in the Brahmaputra are not generated in Tibet where the river originates as the Yarlong Tsangpo.
  • The middle and lower courses of the Brahmaputra are especially flood-prone because of heavy rainfall in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Nagaland.
  • The gradual gradient of the course of the Brahmaputra is not able to take the load of the heavy rainfall during the monsoon resulting in the breaking of the embankments.
  • An additional reason for flood is the silting of the tributaries of the Brahmaputra.

Prof Nayan Sharma of IIT-Roorkee, and an expert in hydraulic structures, river engineering and irrigation, stated that there could be only a durable solution that would help for a long-term, but was doubtful of any permanent solution. He has made the following observations:

  • The Government should try and adopt a technological solution by developing sizeable storage reservoirs in the tributaries of the Brahmaputra through safely designed multi-purpose dam projects as the existing dams are being used only for hydropower generation and thus have no storage space.
  • Sharma also suggested that existing dams such as the Ranganadi dam and the Kopili dam can be used to incorporate flood storage space in the reservoir.
  • Sharma has further warned that the climatic changes resulting in the unprecedented melting of source glaciers in the Himalayas will cause further havoc in the North East in the future.
  • There is also the question of “hydropolitics”, where in China may release water from the reservoirs on the Yarlong Tsangpo to create further havoc in the coming decades.  Sharma feels that any future project should take this danger that is looming over India into consideration.

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