The need of the hour is to strengthen preparedness mechanisms by launching supercomputers that can forecast monsoons and to have early warning systems on board.

Assam Floods The sad story which repeats itself every year needs a game-changing solutionPTI
Voices Opinion Friday, August 12, 2016 - 15:00

By Homolata Borah

The state of Assam inevitably remains under water during the monsoons every year owing to its physiography, incessant rains, encroachment of riverine areas, lack of proper embankment and other causes which lead to huge loss of life, property and assets. The Assam state disaster management authority’s flood report of August 3, 2016 reveals the disarticulation of life, social structure and economic well-being.

Such situations raise questions on the political institutions and the implementation of best practices. According to the flood report, a total of 14 districts including 20,144 hectares of land, 638 villages and 7,69,023 people have been affected. The flood-affected people have been housed in 109 relief camps, two shelter camps and seven relief distribution centers.

The recurrent distressing floods wreak havoc every year, but the state’s response leaves much to be desired. So has the state got habituated to the deaths, losses, crop failure and decline in yields? This question is posed to the academia, media and the rest of the nation.

People mostly make use of social networking, risk perceptions, interactions, and social capital to evolve a mechanism to deal with the floods. Poverty, marginalization and limited options affect people’s ability to survive during and after the floods.

The risk mitigation and disaster preparedness of the government needs to be assessed and reviewed at the earliest so that damage can be minimized. Effective mechanisms should be in place to deal with pre-and post-flood situations. This calls for a multi-dimensional approach, whereby people are educated about early warning systems, benefits reaped from investing in disaster preparedness. Besides, the relief and rehabilitation efforts undertaken should take into account the vulnerabilities of different groups.

Population increase, the problems of poverty, unsustainable livelihood, urbanization, lack of awareness acts as multiple ‘stressors’ which shape risk perception and affect the practice of developing community resilience, thereby increasing vulnerabilities and further complicating the situation.

This calls for a game-changing intervention by experts from various disciplines. Disaster management requires social scientists, medical professionals, administrators, engineers and media to join hands and bring about a reduction in damages through improved food security, livelihood security and health security.

The irony is that while one part of the nation remains under water, there are some others that remain bone dry. The implementation of the river-linking projects which was mentioned in the late President Abdul Kalam’s speech in the year 2000, after its conceptualization 125 years ago, and the inclusion of the state of Assam to move water from the areas of surplus to the areas of deficit need to be carried out on a war-footing. This will actualize irrigation for areas which remain dry in the peninsular part of India.

Even after the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, Assam still remains submerged during the monsoons. The need of the hour is to strengthen preparedness mechanisms by launching supercomputers that can forecast monsoons and to have early warning systems on board. The role of the social scientist to study societies affected by disasters and the vulnerabilities existing therein is important. This will ensure better delivery of services, which will open the gates for better vulnerability mapping and can alter the sad story which repeats itself every year.

 

(The author is a research scholar at the Center for Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University and can be reached at homolata.borah@gmail.com)

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