Tag Archives: #assamfloods

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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Solmari: Another village lost

2013-10-16 15.57.54I said good-bye to my study village yesterday, and celebrated their festival Id with them. Gave my thanks for the time I spent there for the past two years and the support and motivation the people of Solmari gave me for my research. While unpacking resilience and recovery debates in Solmari I have discovered layers and linkages within me, and around me that were unknown to me all the while. I would like to share this particular story with all of you.

I first came to Solmari in July 2012, just when it was flooded due to the heavy rains that caused the breach in the embankment.  (Image – breached embankment). I am a photographer – researcher, so my memory and mind functions in the form of images. Lasting images that are etched in my mind are that of the run-down school and concrete community building that had borne the brunt of the breach. Few other images are of vast stretches of land filled with river water, shattered houses built under Indira Awaas Yojana, people stranded on the embankment and many others trying to salvage from the ruins. The impact of these images were so powerful in my mind, that I was motivated to return here to understand how the communities recovered post-floods.

As I had been remotely keeping an eye on how things developed here, I found news reports and Oxfam situation updates that there were consecutive waves of floods until October 2012, and people were forced to leave their villages and continue living in camps.

I visited Solmari twice this year in January and in August 2013. It was very evident, that the entire village-land was sand-casted and no agriculture was possible in this land. The repeated onslaught of floods indeed had prolonged the rebuilding of their lives and livelihoods. The urgent needs and concerns of the most vulnerable groups were met by Oxfam interventions. Resilience for them was construction of the new embankment for protection from floods, and raised platforms for shelter during floods. The Panchayat undertook construction of the new embankment, and two raised platforms. The quality and durability of these are questionable as the rains

Today I look back at Solmari, which stands nowhere, lying on the wrong-side of the new embankment, the entire community was forced to relocate without any support from the government. The crops and the tree-cover owned by few, lie exposed to the river, which is eroding the soil everyday. With a focused review of recovery processes in water, sanitation and hygiene practices, I found that it remains the primary challenge, besides land and livelihoods. But the question still remains – what makes Solmari resilient in the larger scheme of things? Without adequate support systems – either from government or non-government organizations, what will catalyze the recovery or redevelopment process?

And this is not the only Solmari in Assam, there were many other villages whose name none remember, that were washed away by Brahmaputra today – except for those to whom it belonged, there will be many more Solmaris this year and the next and in the future as well. I saw a similar pattern, and have heard about decades of erosion stories from my research in Morigaon as well? Where do we draw a line, or is it really ok if such unheard stories of villages gets lost in the relief-resilience-development conundrum?

How do recovery lessons from Assam applied elsewhere like in the case of recent Uttarakhand cloudburst or Cyclone Phailin?

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