Floods and migration in Assam can be a key link to human trafficking Credit: Representational image
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Guwahati: Every year floods in Assam cause massive devastation to lives, property and livelihood of the people across the state. While the root cause and the necessity to take concrete measures in order to eradicate the issue have been debated for years, the number of people impacted due to the disaster keeps gaining momentum with each year. Among the most vulnerable are the migrant labourers who are not only at the risk of losing their livelihood but also face a threat to be trafficked.

On several occasions climate change and the increasing risk of natural disasters have been linked to human trafficking. If narrowed down floods is one such issue that exacerbates poverty and can potentially cause situations of conflict and instability. A major part of the population Assam faces similar vulnerabilities due to floods every year.

Erosion caused due to annual floods in a village in Sonitpur district of Assam

The underexplored link

Hazardous conditions, when combined with a mismatch between demand for labour and supply and the proliferation of unscrupulous recruitment agencies, increase high-risk behaviours and other negative coping strategies among affected populations. This may include resorting to migrant smugglers, which in turn makes them vulnerable to trafficking and abuse. As per the National Crime Records Bureau report Assam registered 262 cases of human trafficking in 2018 keeping the state as 4th the highest state to have reported such cases. However, the issue remains relatively under-explored.

“Human trafficking is not just about rescue but it is also about how the environment is protected and providing income generating activities while ensuring that the response in not short termed and rather more of a long term process. Assam is affected by floods every year and we always see the impact of natural calamities on migration which is one way of increasing human trafficking,” said Hasina Kharbhih, chairperson, Impulse NGO Network, following her visit to some of the flood-hit areas in Assam.

Hasina Kharbhih, chairperson, Impulse NGO Network, visits some of the flood-hit areas in Assam

During her recent travel to Assam, the activist visited Puroni Bordikorai and Baligaon Miri Green Villages near Balipara in Assam’s Sonitpur district and Panbari village near Kaziranga National Park. Floods in these areas, every year washes away their produce followed by an enduring struggle for the villagers for food and resettlement.

While during floods in areas near the Kaziranga National Park the focus mostly remains on wildlife, however, there is a large section of people who have to face the annual wrath and also deal with the aftermath every year. There are around 340 villages around the national park that survive on farming and livestock. The after effects of floods are equally devastating as the floods as most of the crop land remain submerged till the month of October.

Saurav Malhotra, Co-founder, Rural Futures, Balipara Foundation who is promoting the practice of agroforestry in community land in flood hit villages says that floods are the results of deforestation and the intensity of floods specially in and around the Kaziranga National Park has grown exponentially.

Hasina Kharbhih also interacts with locals and experts about ways to eradicate floods and provide sustainable livelihood to people living in flood-hit aread

“Environment is the root cause of migration and a healthy environment can ensure healthy economy and life functions which prevents the need of people having to migrate. We believe that we are building economic mobility by engaging indigenous communities and youth in the process of rewilding and restoring habitats which is a part of the landscapes. A lot of our work has shown that the income per unit of land has increased by up to five times if you switch from single or double cropping to methods like agroforestry. We believe that by engaging people in the restoration of landscape be it farmland or wildlife habitat and by creating a system where indigenous communities can sustainably harvest produce for their own needs it can increase their baseline income,” Saurav mentioned.

He also added that having a consultation team of experts, scientists and implementing organisations is essential to have a long-term mitigation prospects of floods in the state.

Migration and the COVID-19 chapter

Assam floods this year affected around 3 million people in nearly 3000 villages of the 27 districts of the state. More than 1.2 lakh hectares of agricultural land were submerged displacing over 44,000 people. Situations worsened with the breakout of COVID-19 that forced numerous people to migrate to their homeland.

In order to provide some relief to such youths, Rural Futures, an initiative of Balipara Foundation have come up with eco-forestry model where youths or communities are employed in their own villages.

“Through this model we give around 900 set of crops for 1 bigha land which helps in providing six times more income generating by efficiently utilising the land. The initial part depends upon the mobilisation and to identify how the eco-forestry model will benefit them. The income that is generated is much more that what they were earning after travelling to a different state or a country. From my interaction with some of them, I have realised that they don’t want to go back anymore so these kind of initiatives will help in mitigating the problem,” Gautam Baruah of Rural Futures, Balipara Foundation said.

Like Balipara Foundation there are several youths and civil societies who are engaged in finding a long-term solution to floods across the state and the spike in migration specially due to the breakout of COVID-19. However, floods in Assam and the problems it leads to, will also require sustainable intervention from the state and the central government in order deliver a permanent solution.

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