Assam Flash Floods: Can GMDA's Efforts Overcome the Perennial Challenge?

Intense rainfall in Guwahati results in flash floods across multiple areas of the city, causing extensive traffic jams and leaving commuters stranded in the chaos.
Flash floods in Guwahati in 2023
Flash floods in Guwahati in 2023PTI

Guwahati- In the northeastern state of Assam, administrations may change, but the anguish of recurring flash floods persists, unyielding to political shifts. As the curtain fell on yet another round of Lok Sabha elections in the state, it marked the continuation of a distressing pattern—where the plight of flash floods became a bargaining chip, a rallying cry for votes.

Anil Nagar, Nabin Nagar, Rajgarh Road, Chandmari, RG Baruah Road, Kahilipara, and Bamuni Maidan stand out as some of the hardest-hit areas during flooding episodes, which generally do not have a specific season but can be triggered whenever there is heavy rainfall.

This also leads to traffic congestion in the city, which do not have extensive roadways for traffic diversion.

Recently, the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) posted on their official social media handle that they undertook a field visit for silt-management plan.

The Mooknayak reached out to the office of GMDA to understand the different works that have been undertaken in order to minimise the devastation caused.  

The office reiterated the same points that are available on the official website, when asked about the steps taken by them to tackle flash floods.

·       In efforts to combat urban flooding, the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) has been diligently implementing the Water Body Preservation and Conservation Act of 2008.

·       They're focusing on enhancing the retention capacity of water bodies in and around Guwahati city, a move aimed at mitigating the impact of floods.

·       To address waterlogging in low-lying areas, GMDA is constructing alternative stormwater drains to redirect excess water away from the city.

·       In collaboration with the Northeastern Space Applications Centre (NESAC) and funding support from the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), GMDA has installed 18 Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) across Guwahati.

·       These stations provide crucial weather data, aiding in early warning systems and disaster preparedness.

·       Additionally, GMDA has acquired and installed 20 Auto-Priming MF Pumps to alleviate inundation in vulnerable areas of Guwahati.

·       These pumps, now managed by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC), play a vital role in swiftly draining excess water during flood situations, safeguarding both property and livelihoods.

Even after the work, flash floods still continue in the city.

While reaching out to Guwahati Municipal Corporation, the office denied commenting on the situation and stated that every work is officially documented.

On further enquiry it was told that the documents are not available freely to the public and one has to physically reach out to the different departments to know the same.

Field visit in Panikheti, in preparation of the Environment-friendly Silt Management Plan.
Field visit in Panikheti, in preparation of the Environment-friendly Silt Management Plan.GMDA

Even though the work sounds good on paper, it is important to note that flash floods have been recurring till the last year.

At the onset of October 2023, the city experienced varying degrees of rainfall: 56 mm in the city center, 104.5 mm near IIT Guwahati on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra river, and 33 mm in the vicinity of Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport.

The downpour resulted in flooding across several neighborhoods, including Maligaon, Lakhtokia, RG Baruah Road, Maniram Dewan Road, Hatigaon, Christian Basti, Jatia, and Dr. B K Kakati Road in the Ulubari area, causing significant traffic disruptions and leaving commuters stranded for hours.

Numerous areas of the city, such as the Bharalumukh to Fancy Bazar stretch and the Panbazar locality, also succumbed to flooding. Notably, even the newly constructed Nilachal flyover, inaugurated just the previous August, found itself submerged. The Boripara flyover was similarly affected by the inundation.

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Why is Guwahati Prone to Flooding?

The reason of flash floods primarily lies in the geography and planning of the city.

In a study published in the ‘Journal of Ecosystem & Ecography’ back in 2016, a detailed account of Guwahati's geographical features are explained.

The central area of the city boasts several small hills, including Sarania hill (193 m), Nabagrah hill (217 m), Nilanchal hill (193 m), and Chunsali hill (293 m). Additionally, the major hill formations in Guwahati consist of Buragosain Parbat in the East and the hills of Rani and Garbhanga in the south. These hills seamlessly merge with the hills of Meghalaya, forming a continuous range. In total, there are 18 hills scattered throughout the city.

However, this strategic positioning leaves it vulnerable to the wrath of nature. When rain descends upon these hills, the resulting runoff swiftly flows into the city, often triggering sudden and devastating flash floods.

Yet, nature has also provided a solution in the form of rivers and beels, natural drainage systems designed to alleviate the city's flood burden by diverting excess water into the Brahmaputra River.

Guwahati city relies on this complex network of rivers and wetlands, including beels, for its natural drainage system along the Brahmaputra riverbanks. However, over the past few decades, encroachments on these water bodies have worsened the issue of urban flooding.

The Bahini-Bharalu, Guwahati's primary river, bears a significant burden of untreated sewage, which it ultimately discharges into the Brahmaputra River.

On the same lines, a report titled 'Assessment of Urban Flooding in Guwahati,' conducted by the Ahmedabad-based All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, emphasized the absence of a properly structured drainage system in Guwahati.

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