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Flood connects Assam and Bangladesh

Op-Ed 2022-06-29, 9:25pm


Nava Thakuria

by Nava Thakuria

As the devastating flood embraces vast areas of Assam (in northeast India) and Bangladesh, the mighty Brahmaputra  comes to the focus again as the lone male river after originating in Tibet (now under China) flows through both the countries before culminating in the Bay of Bengal. 

Incessant rains for many days in the third week of June had inflated all the tributaries of Brahmaputra and it ended up inundating over one million hectares of land affecting millions of people in both the south Asian developing countries.

The monsoon rains in the entire region usually start by the end of May, but this time heavy downpours affected the vast cultivable land by June and at least 5 million people (one million children) in  northeast India and over 6 million (1.50 million children) in its lower riparian areas of northern Bangladesh got severely affected.

According to the government agencies, nearly 2.5 million people in Assam rendered homeless and over 3 million Bangladeshi people take shelter in makeshift camps.

About 125 people have lost their lives due to the flood and landslides in the hilly areas of Assam and its neighbouring State of Meghalaya.

Bangladesh witnessed the death of over 50 people in the flood related incidents. Remote villagers in both the countries are struggling to survive with the crisis of food items, drinking water and medicines for the elderly and children. The armed forces in both the countries have been engaged to rescue the stranded families and also supply essential commodities to affected villages.

According to  Assam State disaster management authority, over 3,000 revenue villages got submerged by the flood water. The flood also affected over a hundred thousand hectares of crops as well as washed away a large number of domestic animals. The  world famous abode of precious one-horned rhinoceros, Kaziranga National Park also witnesses flooding in its northern part on the bank of Brahmaputra. 

In Bangladesh, over one million hectares of farmland are under water. Even the civil air-services in Sylhet region faced repeated disruptions for many days.

Identified as one of the world’s climate-vulnerable countries, Bangladesh receives river water from India where Brahmaputra and Barak contribute a large volume of water in every monsoon season.

Annual floods affect the populous country’s agriculture, related infrastructure and its economy. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently took aerial surveys of flood affected north and northeast localities of the densely populated country. She commented that different agencies were engaged in rescuing the trapped people and supporting them with reliefs.

On the other hand, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma continues visiting the flood affected areas to take stock of the situation where thousands of families are still in administration-run relief camps. 

The flood situation in the Barak valley continues to be grim, where the power supply has been interrupted (so does the cell-phone network) for many days. The road-connectivity to Silchar has been disturbed and even many trains connecting the southern valley have been cancelled or rescheduled. 

The authority started fixed (reasonable) price air-services between Guwahati and Silchar. Brahmaputra, which originates at Manasarovar of Kailash range inside Tibet with an elevation of over 5,000 meters, runs over 3,900 kilometers till its culmination.  

The third largest river in the world has over 50 tributaries in the region and it carries a high level of sedimentation. During the monsoon season (usually June to October), the river water from the Himalayas receives an extra volume of sediment-water from the  rain-fed tributaries that adds to the intensity of floods in both the countries. 

A huge area of fertile agricultural lands in India and Bangladesh is damaged by the flood causing massive annual economic losses.

Realizing the gravity of flood-situation, the European Union  has offered  € 2 million (1 Euro = 83 Indian Rupee)  in emergency aid to the affected families of Bangladesh and India. In a 26 June message, the EU  termed the current wave of flood as worse than those of 1998 and 2004 and released €1.2 million for the affected people in Bangladesh and €800,000 for India focusing on Assam. 

The money is expected to be channelized through the EU's humanitarian aid partners on the ground, so that the affected and displaced families can get relief.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured the Assam government of all necessary support from the Union government  in New Delhi. 

Meanwhile, the Reliance Industries Limited’s managing director Mukesh Ambani and his son Anant Ambani donated Rs 250 million to the CM’s relief fund with an aim to help the people reeling under the devastating floods.

Government run Oil India Limited extended Rs 50 million to the relief fund. While Mumbai-based producer Bhushan Kumar donated Rs 11, 00,000 filmmaker Rohit Shetty, actor Arjun Kapoor and singer Sonu Nigam also extended Rs 5,00,000 each to the government.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Guwahati, Assam)