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Silchar, the headquarters of Cachar district in Assam is the state’s second largest city after Guwahati. Located on the banks of Barak, Silchar attracts tourists in significant numbers owing to its natural beauty, rich and diversified culture. Under the Kachari rulers, Silchar was a village and during British rule, the city was the headquarters of Cachar way back in the 1800s. Otherwise known for its trade and processing centre for tea, rice, and other agricultural products, this year the city was in the headlines for being the worst hit by floods in the north east. Reports mention that around 43 embankments were destroyed this year causing the devastating destruction and few of the state legislators pointed out the breach of the Bethakundi dyke that was responsible for the flood damage at a huge scale. 

The occurrence of floods cannot be seen as an isolated factor. The occurrence has been worsened due to an intersection of unprecedented rainfall, soil erosion and deforestation: all put together as an ecological destruction. To give a perspective, Silchar has seen 50 mm rainfall and Karimganj 40 mm rainfall this month, 4 mm is seen as a normal range of rainfall. 

Assam, situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, comprises of two valleys — Brahmaputra and Barak – each named after the respective rivers and two hill districts along with a huge network of over 20 large rivers and 50 tributaries. The mighty Brahmaputra river originates from the Himalayas and enters India through Arunachal Pradesh before flowing into the Bay of Bengal. It flows through Assam over a length of around 650 km with an average width of 5.46 km, making it the main river that crosses the floodplains. 

Reports mention that the estimated cost of reparation, both for flood victims and rescue operations, has amounted to Rs. 3400 crore that the centre released to Assam this year, and with the anticipated climate change related issues, the situation is only going to worsen every year. 

Interconnectedness of the ecological ecosystem 

When we talk of the ecological layer of our environment, it is very vast, complex and interconnected in nature. What is visibly seen is that rainfall is the direct correlation to the floods, it is not so. There are several underlying factors that causes floods: erosion of the land as the width of the river Brahmaputra has increased upto 15 kms, unplanned urban growth, deforestation, cutting of hills and destruction of wetlands. Nature processes are inbuilt with interconnectedness in which one living entity’s functionality is connected to the other and destruction of one entity causes a collapse in the ecosystem.  It is of no surprise that the ecological destruction has worsened the flood situation. Since dams lead to further ecological imbalance, environmentalists are saying wetlands and embankments should be reinstalled. The impact of climate change cannot be reversed and the region will always face rainfall year after year, therefore there needs to be more interventions to reduce the impact of calamities on humanity and environment going forward. 

Going the natural way 

A low cost effective approach such as nature-based solutions that are conservation based strategies can minimise flood risks such as a) reconnecting floodplains to give rivers more room during floods and build vegetation, b) identifying and conserving watershed and wetlands that trap excess water, and c) plantation of mangroves in and around the waterbody to soak additional water. By absorbing excess water, these mechanisms also help to soak in nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – carried by flood waters. 

The focus should be around protection of open spaces rather than constructing residential and commercial buildings. Natural climate solutions such as managing forests, agricultural lands, grasslands and wetlands are cost efficient that can benefit both the communities and ecosystems on which the wildlife and habitat can rely. 

Blue carbon ecosystem 

Another solution is to install a blue carbon ecosystem (BCEs) along the coastline of the waterbody. The mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses help in capturing carbon and can also absorb excess water. As part of the blue ecosystem, mangrove, salt marshes and seagrasses sequester and store carbon dioxide as organic carbon in their biomass (above and below ground) and soil material. BCEs may carry out this process continuously for over thousands of years, locking away carbon that could contribute to the heating of the earth’s atmosphere into a large number of carbon stocks in biomass and organic-rich soils. 

There is momentum of researchers, policymakers, and implementers that are gearing towards building a strong foundation of science, policy, and sustainable coastal management practices for the conservation and restoration of BCEs as a means of collective effort in addressing climate change.  At the global level, the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC) was established during the Paris Agreement, UNFCCC COP21, in 2015 that aimed at connecting efforts of research organizations, governments, non-government and international organizations in enhancing the protection and restoration of BCEs. There is hope that such partnerships can foster and strengthen the relationships of the involved countries by sharing knowledge, experiences, and expertise in understanding better the importance of BCEs in global climate regulation and adaptation, achieving sustainable development goals, growing the blue economy, and meeting national commitments. 

2022 being the watershed year 

This year due to the critical state of the situation, the Army was deployed with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in Hojai, Nalbari, Barpeta, Cachar, Darrang and Kamrup districts. Over 2 lakh people were sheltered in 800 relief camps, while 825 relief distribution centres were set up as per reports. The state suffers an annual loss to the tune of Rs 200 crore on an average due to floods. What we need is actionable, feasible and low cost solutions if possible to address this annual challenge of floods. With the correct intention and willingness of policy makers as well as the community, there is hope to sail through living without harming livelihood or livestock in the coming years. 

A post graduate from London School of Economics, Attrika Hazarika is a public affairs professional with expertise in sustainability, circular model of economy and policy advocacy. 

Also read: 434 Covid cases in Assam, highest since Feb 7

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