It is the annual flood season in Assam, India’s most populous northeastern state, and already well over half a million people in two-thirds of its 34 districts have been affected. The Assamese are used to flooding, but data reveals an increase in extreme rainfall days in recent years, leading to even greater devastation.

The 2020 Assam floods also affected over half a million people statewide, according to the Assam Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA). Spread over four months between May and August, the ASDMA struggled to accommodate over 150,000 people in 627 relief camps while attempting to maintain social distancing norms last year. 

Much like other disastrous global events like the recent floods in Germany and Hurricane Ida that caused unprecedented flooding in the US, these changing rainfall trends are attributed to climate change. This necessitates disaster management authorities to build climate resilience right at the planning stage to mitigate the effects of future events. 

For most people displaced by floods, relief shelters are the only refuge for weeks, if not months. In many locations in Assam, schools are converted into relief shelters during the flood season, where families reside in close quarters and are provided with the bare minimum. Many of these schools do not have electricity. A recent Parliamentary report on public school education revealed that only about a quarter of the state’s government schools have power supply.

The schools that are connected to the grid face intermittent power supply during floods. District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMA) send diesel generators for temporary access to electricity at some locations. At others, families rely on kerosene lamps and candles for lighting. Lack of lighting at these shelters makes safety and security a challenge, especially for women and children. Unreliable power supply also affects the availability of potable water. Shelters where diesel generators are provided, must procure diesel for long hours of operation, which is a challenge for hard-to-reach locations cut off due to flooding. Some DDMA authorities spend about INR 150-200 per family every week for lighting at relief shelters and a further INR 2000 daily for running diesel generators. Moreover, unreliable electricity severely hampers relief functions, like the reach of communication devices, radio, and mobile phones; and it restricts emergency health services.

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Improving electricity access through Renewable energy

Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) installations are increasingly being used in humanitarian settings in several geographies worldwide – whether for refugee settlements or short-term relief operations. These installations are ideal for powering “social loads” such as schools, primary health centres and community buildings. However, such facilities require climate-resilient design, clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities and financial arrangements to cover the costs of operation and maintenance (O&M) for their lifetime. Good design and efficient management of these solar PV installations can ensure that they withstand extreme weather events. 

WRI India has been studying solar PV installations in the development sector to electrify essential services like health, drinking water, education, and livelihoods in climate-vulnerable areas across multiple states in India. We have learnt that solar PV combined with batteries is advantageous for quick deployment. Additional capacity could be added if needed and requires nominal O&M expenses. 

In contrast, diesel generators, usually deployed during such extreme weather events, are expensive to operate. Moreover, they pollute the air, emitting methane and carbon dioxide, apart from the noise they generate, disturbing already weary communities. Repairing a broken diesel generator and finding spares are also a challenge in remote and rural areas. But with well-designed solar PV installations, it is possible to maintain an inventory of spares and plan for regular maintenance. 

Co-benefits from investing in Renewable energy

Schools and other government-owned buildings in rural areas are often used for multiple purposes. They double up as places for community meetings, polling centres during elections, and relief shelters during floods. Providing reliable electricity through decentralized renewable energy like solar PV installations has already proven beneficial for educational outcomes, democratic processes, and bettering the conditions of families seeking refuge. Corporates and government agencies could deploy CSR funds and district administration budgets to finance the renewable energy installations. A recent order from the Rajasthan Electricity Regulatory Commission has provided an example of how government departments, corporates, electric utilities and civil society could together enable energy access for schools. Assam could deploy a similar approach to solarize its schools and relief shelters to better prepare for the onslaught of future floods.

The author works on expanding energy access in rural and remote parts of India as part of the World Resources Institute India. Masfick tweets @masfiqhazarika. He can also be contacted at

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