Explained: Behind the unprecedented pre-monsoon devastation in Assam

While the monsoons are yet to arrive, Assam has already been beset by floods and landslides that have left 15 people dead and more than 7 lakh affected.

The monsoons bring destruction to Assam like a clockwork almost every year. However, this year, while the monsoons are yet to arrive, the state has already been beset by floods and landslides that have left 15 people dead and more than 7 lakh affected. The hill district of Dima Hasao, in particular, has been ravaged by flash floods and landslides, with connectivity to the rest of the state snapped.

Assam floods: What is behind this unprecedented devastation?

Experts point out that there are a combination of factors. First, extraordinarily acute pre-monsoon rains. While the average rainfall for the period of March 1 to May 20 in Assam is 434.5 mm, the corresponding number for this year is 719 mm. That amounts to a 65 per cent excess. That is a “large excess”, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. The neighbouring state of Meghalaya has recorded an even greater excess: of 137 per cent.

“Normally we have rains coming in June and July when we experience big floods,” said Dr DC Goswami, an eminent environmentalist and a retired professor of hydrology from the Gauhati University. “This time it has come with a bang. The difference is the timing and scale.” Goswami attributed the changes in “rainfall intensity, arrival and departure times” to climate change.

Partha Jyoti Das, who heads the Water, Climate and Hazard Division of the Guwahati-based environment non-profit Aaranyak, concurred. “Because of climate change, there are more and more concentrated rain and heavy rainfall episodes,” said Das.

He added that it was even more worrisome since the southwest monsoons were expected early (end May) in the northeast region this year. “There may be little respite between the recession of this pre-monsoonal flood and the advent of the first monsoonal flood surge, especially in Assam,” he said.

But it is not just floods that have wreaked destruction. There have been several episodes of landslides, especially in south Assam’s Dima Hasao and Cachar districts. At least three people have been buried alive in Dima Hasao’s Haflong. In a particularly horrific incident, mudslides washed away a portion of the rail tracks that connect the south of Assam with the rest of the country. The New Haflong railway station was also severely damaged with bogeys of a train at the station overturning under the force of landslide-induced debris. Portions of the road connecting Guwahati to Dima Hasao, and beyond to Barak Valley districts, have caved in.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in  May 2022. Full article here.