World Bank to support Assam with a 10-year programme to reduce climate-related disasters
World Bank will soon collaborate with the Assam Government to reduce climate-related disasters

Guwahati: The World Bank is supporting Assam with a ten-year programme to reduce the vulnerability of people to climate-related disasters and improve integrated water resources management.

The Centre and the Assam government had formally requested US$500 million in financing from the Bank for a long-term program to help Assam confront its complex challenges.

In the first phase, The World Bank’s Executive Board of Directors approved a $108 million loan to help Assam improve disaster preparedness and enhance flood forecasting. The project will benefit around 6 million people and is part of a larger $500 million investment program for Assam.

The first phase will end in 2027, the second phase in 2030, and the third phase in 2033.

The program will enable Assam to better adapt to the impacts of climate change by building the knowledge base and decision-support systems for climate-resilient planning and investment. It helps build climate resilience through infrastructure investments, improves emergency preparedness and response, and stresses the importance of building back better after climate-related disasters.

The Bank says the Multiphase Programmatic Approach (MPA) will support Assam to reduce the vulnerability of people to climate-related disasters and improve the integrated water resources management program. An MPA signals the Bank’s support for a long-term partnership that will help meet Assam’s needs. A single project, with a shorter time span and smaller financing package, would not be responsive to the borrower’s needs or expectations.

“The MPA offers the opportunity to provide long-term continuous support for institutional development and capacity building of Assam government agencies. It also allows time to build the coalitions of stakeholders, including local governments, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, academia, and the public, that are crucial to mount a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to reducing climate-related disaster risks and improving IWRM. The time span of a single project is too short to achieve sustainable progress on these fronts,” the Bank says.

An MPA provides confidence to the Assam government that investment preparation activities will be considered for financing in the subsequent phase. If a single project were used, the Assam government could only count on financing for a single project with a shorter time span, thus discouraging a larger loan amount commitment and reducing the incentives to prepare future subsequent investments Assam’s water-related challenges are inherently transboundary.

Transboundary collaboration, however, is generally complex and slow. “An MPA provides the Bank with a stable and long-term engagement to assist the Centre in fostering cooperation among the northeast India states, as well as Bhutan and Bangladesh. A shorter, and more investment-focused single project, would not provide such a platform,” the Bank says.

It says bold actions and a step change from “business as usual” will be needed, which requires strong and coordinated institutions, a sound knowledge base, a shift away from reactive and piecemeal investments to stakeholder-driven integrated and long-term planning, and a refocusing on a more “intelligent” and adaptive approach that includes nature-based ‘green’ infrastructure and non-structural measures in combination with gray infrastructure is required to tackle the floods problem.

The Bank says there are several factors that constrain Assam’s ability to mitigate flood and erosion risk and sustainably increase the productivity of water resources.

The State has low capacity in integrated water resources management (IWRM) and disaster risk management (DRM). There is institutional fragmentation and limited coordination across the multiplicity of agencies working at the central, regional (northeast India), state, and local levels that are responsible for water management and disaster risk reduction,” it says.

It further says top-down planning dominates, often with an inadequate connection to the communities and people who are most directly affected. “Institutional weaknesses are compounded by a dispersed and outdated knowledge base; there are serious gaps in data and information required for scientific analysis and informed decision-making on managing risks and making more productive use of water resources. Responses to routine flooding and rampant erosion have largely been piecemeal, reactive, and inflexible in dealing with the dynamic nature of the river systems and adapting to climate change,” it adds.

Auguste Tano Kouame, the World Bank’s Country Director for India, said the project will build on Assam’s disaster risk management approach thus contributing to climate-resilient growth while protecting the lives and property of the people of Assam.

Almost half of Assam’s landmass is prone to floods. Between 1953 and 2020, an estimated 178 million people were impacted by floods in virtually all districts of the State. Over 50 million hectares in Assam were affected by floods during this same period, which represents over 10 percent of the total area affected by floods in all of India. Approximately 386,476 hectares, equivalent to approximately 7 percent of the State’s landmass in 17 riverine districts, were lost due to river erosion between 1954 and 2019.

A high percentage of Assam’s landmass suffers from moderate to extremely severe soil loss (i.e., greater than 10 tons/ha/year) due to water erosion, and over 65 percent of Assam’s landmass has moderate to extremely severe soil loss, well over the national average of 38 percent. Another almost 30 percent face very severe to extremely severe soil loss (i.e., greater than 40 tons/ha/year) due to water erosion, significantly higher than the national average of 5 percent.

The devastating 2022 floods affected 34 of Assam’s 35 districts, claimed 201 lives, damaged 315,641 houses and 243,929 hectares of cropped area, forced 743,528 people into relief camps, and adversely impacted the lives and livelihoods of around 8.8 million people across 10,008 villages.

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“There is no overarching Integrated Water Resources Management policy or law, and the water resources department focuses almost exclusively on floods and riverbank erosion,” the Bank says.

The existing Assam Flood Early Warning System (FLEWS) will be upgraded by increasing the lead time for flood forecasting from 24 hours to 72 hours and expanding the scope to include both river overflows and floodplain inundation and other flood prediction tools.

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