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Transformed River forced people to different path livelihood

November 27, 2017

Maya, an Nepali origin woman at Menoka goes several time to fetch water in small pot and bucket from a lean channel of Kalanadi. She has no bigger bucket to carry water and even no bigger bucket or drum to store water.
Kanu, a man from same locality carry water from the channel on his soulder with two bucket said that there were enough water in the river 10 years back and water channel was nearer. Now it is far and no substantial amount of water to take bath in the river. Kalanadi is flowing with a small stream far away from their side. Villagers dug a channel to bring a small flow to their side and they are collecting water from this channel nearer from their side.
This in not problem of Kanu and Maya. Hundreds of villagers living along the river has been suffering from acute water crisis as well as other problems. Fishing, cloths washing, taking bath are now a kind of fables for villagers. The river, which once upon a time was lifeline of people now full of sand, silt and pebbles. Domestic as well as wild animals find no water when they fill thirsty. Until 15 years back villagers had caught fishes in the river and their children got nutrition from this food. But now get fishes only in market supplied from outside of the region.

As stream of Kalanadi river disappeares after around 15 km downstream, the vast riverbed from Daranga to Kumarikata in Baksa district of Assam-Bhutan border, has been transformed into barren land, a kind of desertification. This are belongs to Assam in India - Bhutan border where the river enter Indian plain from foothills of Bhutan to plains of India. According to local people from Menoka, Dalasiri and Kumarikata, there were no massive flood or water flow in the river even in summer or heavy rainy days. The deposition of sand, stone, pebbles and silt in Bhutan-Himalayan rivers flowing through Assam create a new type of desertification and most of the rivers are dry near Bhutan-India border as the rivers entering into the floodplains of India.

From Menoka to Kumarikata, a vast area of arond 20 suare kilometer became full of stones, pebbles and sand. Actually this happened at least 15 years back by flash flood and cloud burst flood. But now flood is rare in the river even in rainy days. People have forgotten fishing, irrigation, open washing, bath, water-games, etc. Without irrigation, most farmers are unable to cultivate their land

The overall socioeconomic condition of communities in the study area is poor, with 80 per cent of villagers living below the poverty line; widespread malnutrition, and a lack of education, safe drinking water, and health and hygiene facilities, making them more vulnerable to flash floods.

Kanu said , " there is a thin flow of water round the year. If a stream of water can be brought to nearer building a concreat channel and stored in a concreat tank it will be useful and villagers will be benifitted. Now they spent maximum time to carry water and if channel is developed it will be easier and less time-consuming" .

Now, according to local people, this area has stretched to at least 20 kilometres downstream. Flash floods that become frequent in the last 10-15 years are responsible for this transformation. Every year flash floods erode the river bank in different directions and the river bed became shallow, wide and full of sand. Flash floods transformed vast stretches into deserts within the last two decades. In some areas sand deposition is as deep as 7 feet.

Local people are becoming more dependent on the forests for firewood and have cleared different patches of forests in government land. A change in Himalayan river system has, therefore, now triggered changes in the population distribution, density, migration and occupations of the people that live beside them. The inhabitants of the India-Bhutan border are by and large poor, and depend heavily on the land and natural resources for their livelihoods. Some 70% of the region's population is food-energy deficient, a proportion almost as high as that in desert region.

According to Professor Abani Kumar Bhagwati, department of geography in Gauhati University, climate change is mostly to blame. Deforestation wiped out natural barriers to check the materials that are carried by the rivers and flash floods and deposited in the wider river-beds in the plains. Apart from rising temperatures in the Hindu-Kush Himalayas as a whole, intense seasonal precipitation in the Bhutan Himalayan foothills triggers a variety of natural hazards. The geomorphology of the rivers has also changed.

As flash flood causes the rivers to meander the sand deposition becoming wider and thickness has been increasing year by year, he said. High intensity rainfall events in Bhutan Himalayas are often localized phenomenon and have intense implications. These intense rainfall events, sometimes called cloudburst, can occur in remote areas as a result of topographic variation. Of course it has a relation with atmospheric temperature rising as well as climate change, Prof. Bhagwati said.
Degraded areas are adversely affecting the indigenous ecology and species. Desertification of crop land, low agricultural productivity and uncertainty in agricultural production forced people to find out other livelihood and habitat. Lack of basic facilities in villages and better prospects (sometimes only anticipated) in cities are other reasons for migrating.
Flash floods transformed vast stretches into deserts within the last two decades. In some areas sand deposition is as deep as 7 feet. Land along the river banks full of alluvium yielded rich harvests two decades back are now abandoned due to desertification. In the past land that had been inundated by floods could be reclaimed in 3 to 5 years, but now in some cases no vegetation has arisen even after fifteen years. As the river flow become less regular the people living downstream move away from the river into the forests, leading to deforestation and encroachment.
Flash floods is much higher than from other water-induced disasters, but deposition of silt, sand and stone create big environmental problems. Labour migration has become a key issue in the present day globalised world, and it is a major livelihood strategy for many people in the region. The fragile bedrock, steep slopes and high rate of surface erosion attributes to devastating flood, erosion and desertification.
  • A man comes to collect water from a very little water channel of Kalanadi river 1
    Kalanadi Dalang, Baksa, India Bhutan border area, Assam India
  • A man who is dumb carrying water from from a little channel Kalanadi at Menoka near Kalanadi Bridge
    Kalanadi Dalang, India- Bhutan border area, Baksa, Assam India
  • A man on his way to fetch water from Kalanadi river, Indo-Bhutan border
    Kalanadi River, India-Butan border, Baksa , Assam India
  • An woman washing her legs after collectong water for household uses by a little channel of Kalanadi river in Indo-Bhutan Border
    Kalanadi Dalang, Baksa, India Bhutan border area, Assam India
  • The site where Kalanadi enter India from Bhutan Foothills . Kalanadi river near Kalanadi Bridge, near Daranga
    Kalanadi Dalang, Baksa, India Bhutan border area, Assam India
  • Kalanadi river Kumarikata without water flow and , full of stones, sand and silt
    Kumarikata, Baksa, Assam, India India
  • Villagers collecting money from a little channel of Kalanadi river
    Kalanadi Dalang, India-Bhutan border area, Baksa, Assam India
  • A river in India Bhutan Border area in 2010
    Delasiri, Daranga, Baksa, Assam India
  • Kalanadi and foothills of Bhutan in 2014 at Kalanadi bridge, India- Bhutan border area, Assam
    Kalanadi Bridge, India-Bhutan border India
  • Kalanadi in Indo- Butan border in 2016
    Kumarikata, Baksa, Indo-Bhutan border, Assam India