Assam floods: No respite from heavy rains, residents astonished as usually soothing 'Bordoisilla' turns destructive

Pre-monsoon showers are not uncommon in Assam but the intensity with which they have unleashed destruction in the northeastern state hasn't been witnessed by its residents in the months prior to the arrival of the monsoon. Here is how the state population is coping up with the mayhem caused by heavy rainfall, floods and landslides. Details here.

Puspanjalee Das DuttaPuspanjalee Das Dutta   19 May 2022 6:22 PM GMT

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Assam floods: No respite from heavy rains, residents astonished as usually soothing Bordoisilla turns destructive

An estimated 600,000 people are affected by the raging floods which have inundated a total of 26 districts in Assam and as per the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, the death toll has risen to 11. Picture Courtesy: Directorate of Information and Public Relations, Dima Hasao.

Barpeta, Assam

Bordoisilla — is what the Assamese call pre-monsoon winds which are also accompanied by occassional rainfall and thunderstorm. It is historically known to bring respite from the early heat of the spring season but this year, the Bordoisilla has invaded the northeastern state in an unrecognisable appearance.

Joymai Dutta, a 79-year-old resident of Assam's Dhemaji district is perplexed by the incessant downpour that continues to deluge the northeastern state, destroying bridges, railroads, and displacing a population of almost half a million people which is presently dependent on relief measures for its survival.

"This is unprecedented! Floods have hit Assam before as well but I have never witnessed such a heavy downpour in my life before the onset of monsoon. Jeth or mid-May is traditionally known for hot and dry days. During this period, the paddy fields would be ready after ploughing in Bohag (mid-April to mid-May)," the 79-year-old rural resident who talks of months with respect to the annual agrarian cycle told Gaon Connection.

"The dryness would have killed the unwanted weeds after they got pruned through ploughing. And once the Ahar month (mid-June) comes and Monsoon hits, it is time to plant those paddy saplings. But all that arrangement is gone now. These floods will wreak havoc on agriculture, it is too early for the floods to be around," the old man shuddered while speaking.

What the 79-year-old recalls from his memory as 'unprecedented' has scientific explanation as well. When Gaon Connection approached Sunit Das who is employed as a weather scientist at the India Meteorological Department's local office in Guwahati's Borjhar locality, he too stated that it is an 'unusually heavy' rainfall which is lashing the northeastern region.

"These heavy rainfalls are due to extreme moisture accumulation over the Bay of Bengal. As Assam and the neighbouring states are landlocked and surrounded by lofty hills, any meteorological disturbance over the Bay of Bengal affects the area severely. It is not a case of cloud burst as suspected, rather it is only unusually heavy rainfall during the pre Monsoon," Das told Gaon Connection.

Also Read: Northeast battered by floods: Landslides wash away bridges, at least 15 dead, more than 500,000 displaced

The weather scientist however underlined that although such heavy rainfall is extremely rare in April-May, it is still too soon to call it an 'anomaly or season shift'.

Meanwhile, as on May 19, an estimated 600,000 people are affected by the raging floods which have inundated a total of 26 districts in Assam and as per the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, the death toll has risen to 11.

The disaster management agency informed that the worst-hit district is Nagaon followed by Cacher where 280,000 and 120,000 people are presently affected.

Other districts affected by the floods are Bajali, Baksa, Barpeta, Biswanath, Bongaigaon, Charaideo, Darrang, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Dima Hasao, Goalpara, Hailakandi, Kamrup, Kamrup Metropolitan, Karbi Anglong West, Karimganj, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Majuli, Morigaon, Nalbari, Sonitpur, Tamulpur and Udalguri. Also, a total of 46,160.43 hectares of agricultural fields are underwater and 307,849 livestock have been affected.

Transport facilities inundated, regions disconnected from administrative centres

At present, the mighty Brahmaputra river is flowing above the danger mark and the state's Inland Water Transport Department has already issued a warning to stop the ferry services for the time being.

In western Assam, the Barak river is also flowing above the danger mark causing the entire Barak Valley (which forms the bulk of the southern parts of Assam) to become disconnected from the rest of the state following incessant rainfall which began on May 13. It is important to note that the Barak valley connects the states of Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur with the rest of India through Assam. These three states are also reeling under disruption of essential supplies.

The heavy rain has also caused severe landslides resulting in inundated roads and displaced railway lines and bridges. In fact, the New Haflong railway station in the Dima Hasao district is half-buried under mud, rendering rail movement impossible. Also, the entire Lumding-Silchar railway lines have collapsed under heavy landslides and mudflows.

Towns inundated in minutes

At Gohpur in Assam's Biswanath district, the town was inundated within 20 minutes. Nabadeep Saikia, a resident of the Gohpur town witnessed the destruction unfold.

"Chattrang river that flows through Gohpur had a new bridge constructed which was open to the public. However, the old bridge was yet to be abolished. So, when it rained heavily in the upper catchment area, the water flow increased and reached Gohpur, the old bridge which was at a lower level obstructed the water flow. But as the force of the water flow increased, it damaged the bridge and within 20 minutes, every piece of infrastructure was submerged in water," Saikia told Gaon Connection.

The anxious resident blamed the disaster on lack of planning and reckless construction in the hilly state

Submerged Chayduar College, Gohpur. Photo by Nabadeep Saikia, Gohpur

"Highway constructions and negligence for the old roads, engineering mistakes, and absence of proper drainage systems are the reasons behind the devastating flood in the Biswanath district. The outlets that are built to prevent flooding are built way above the required level which causes water logging when the water level recedes," he said.

Situated at a distance of almost 300 kilometres from Gohpur, similar complains were received from displaced residents in Dima Hasao district.

"There are 1,050 houses in the Muolhoi area in the Dima Hasao district. But during these recent heavy rains, we witnessed severe landslides which have buried more than 150 houses. We are now living in churches and schools with no sign of when we can go back. Electricity lines are destroyed, we have lost land connectivity, and mobile networks are unstable. Although we have access to pure water, dry rations are going to be a problem," George S Khojol, a local resident, told Gaon Connection.

"The village organisations and district authority are helping but due to poor connectivity, the help is limited. Our hilly areas are prone to landslides during monsoons but during this time of year, it never was so devastating. I think it is one of the worst landslides our areas have witnessed in the last 50 years," he speculated.

'Deforestation, cutting hills for infrastructure projects a contributing factor'

When Gaon Connection approached a geographer to understand the factors which exacerbate the floods in the region, it was learnt that deforestation is one of the leading reasons for the deluge.

"One of the major reasons for floods in Assam is deforestation and haphazard cutting of hills," Abani Kumar Bhagabati, a retired professor from the Gauhati University pointed out.

Picture Courtesy: Directorate of Information and Public Relations, Dima Hasao

"Due to rapid deforestation, the rainfall carries more sediments and deposits it in the river beds and lakes. Once the river beds are shallow, it loses their carrying capacity making the rivers inundated which eventually flood the areas," Bhagabati said.

"Cutting hills in the upper catchment areas, as most of the tributaries and sub-tributaries of the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers originated in the surrounding hills, is another reason behind waterlogging. To prevent it, we need to stop cutting hills and trees in the upper catchment areas of the rivers and conduct major afforestation drives for a long term solution," he added.

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