Long road to recovery in Assam: Recurrent floods again in 2015!

DSC_0499_2Floods are ravaging Assam again as official records state 18 lakh affected and more than five people dead across 20 districts due to the current wave of floods. The recent announcements by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the dwindling Centre-State relations have badly affected state funding for disaster response. There is no doubt that Assam is strategic due to 2,800 miles of international borders shared with China, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. However, the repeated floods, which have increased in the recent years with recurring floods in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 – 2015 have failed to highlight Assam floods as national problem.

The displaced populations are residing in schools run as relief camps, and will return to their villages once the water recedes. The access to water supplies, sanitation facilities in these camps is inadequate to meet the needs of the lakhs in number displaced. The floods in Assam affect drinking water sources and the quality of drinking water creating an acute drinking water problem. As a result, the affected people are depending on floodwaters and open defecation becomes challenging especially for women and adolescent girls. The recurring floods have impacted the water, sanitation, health and education systems in Assam.

In order to continue with schooling of children, these camps are shut down within a fortnight, forcing the people to leave the camps and fend for themselves. Their road to recovery is clearly distraught as no long-term support is guaranteed by government, civil societies and NGOs. In my research of community recovery after the 2012 floods in the state show that destroyed families had not received the promised financial damage compensations even two years after. The populations living in the fringes were displaced once again when the embankments are constructed, paid nominal land value, and no further support for resettlement. In many areas in Morigaon, the newly constructed embankments breached in the following monsoons causing further distress to riverine communities in Maihang and Bhuragaon blocks.

This year again the floods have magnified the challenges of recovery for these marginal groups, the women especially who bear the responsibilities of running households, child-care and rebuilding homes after floods every year. This strangely takes a toll on their physical and mental health, overall well-being and economic conditions. The Indian Disaster Management Act, 2005, does not recognize the chronic challenges of erosion suffered in Morigaon, Lakhimpur and Nalbari among other districts as a natural disaster. Probably the recent flood events and resultant erosion will serve a reminder to the top brasses in the centre to take stock of the situation and deliver the promises.

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