Text & photos by Masfique A. Hazarika
People staying near breached embankment
What is climate change? Though the answer seems obvious, there is no exact definition of climate change. According to scientists, it’s a long term phenomenon where various climatic factors like temperature and precipitation are changing in terms of quantity and quality over a period of time. Climate change has been defined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” As suggested by many climatologists, it would be good if we can study the impact of climate change on a regional basis.
Brahmaputra is one of the largest rivers flowing through Assam, a state rich in bio-diversity due to its river system. This river starts its journey from a glacier at Tibet (on eastern Himalayan basin) and meets Bay of Bengal passing through Tibet, China (known as Warloong-Tsangpo), India and Bangladesh (known as Jamuna). While entering Assam from Arunachal Pradesh, Siang meets Dibang and Lohit, which are the two major river channels flowing from the north-east and eastern parts of the region. At this point, the river become huge and flow placidly westward in multiple braided channel. During its journey through Assam, the Brahmaputra has more than 10 tributaries which feed the river with huge amounts of water thus making the river system one of the largest throughout the planet. Most of its tributaries which carry huge amount of water flows from the northern side and are concentrated in the district of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur and Sonitpur.
Dihiri Chapori is a village situated near the bank of Jiadhal river (Samarajan branch) on the western part of Dhemaji district of Assam. The village is approximately 500 meter away from the NH 15. There are more than 500 households with a population of nearly 2,500. This whole village has been divided in two parts by the Samarajan branch of Jiadhal River. According to the villagers, there are a total of 6 settlements namely Namoni Dihiri, Maaj Dihiri, Ujoni Dihiri, Dihiri Chapori, Dihiri Kachari and Dihiri Lapong. 3 settlements are located in between 2 branches of Jiadhal River (Kumotia and Samarajan). These villages has been considered as one of the most vulnerable villages of western Dhemaji district in terms of flash flood. The flow regime of the Jiadhal river along with erratic rainfall on the upper catchment area (Arunachal Pradesh) has worsened the situation of Dihiri since 2007-08.
Woman crossing road inundated with flood water
According to villagers, flash flood carries huge amount of silts and sediments which affect their agricultural field and their major source of livelihood. Since 2008-09 many researchers and a few renowned scientists have been visiting this village to carry out ground level research to understand the adverse effect of climate change, take adaptive measures for villagers against these adverse situations, etc.
Dihiri has found a place on various international research platforms. As told by the villagers, in the past, the socio-economic status of the villagers was better than at present. Agriculture productivity which used to be their major source of income has been most affected due to huge sand casting deposited by the flood waters. . They also noticed that the reason behind this sand deposition is cutting of trees on the hills of Arunachal Pradesh i.e. upper catchment of the river.
Impact on the Education system:
The entire Dihiri Chapori has only two higher primary schools. One of them is located at Namoni Dihiri and another at Dihiri Lapong. Since the last 10 years, the school situated at Namoni Dihiri is washed away every year, by flash floods of Jiadhal. The villagers reconstruct the building after every flood season.
According to the only teacher of the school, he has to divide the timeline of 6 hours for class 1 to class 5 every day. Hence, the quality of teaching is degrading steadily. Another Lower Primary school located at Dihiri Lapong which is a concrete building, but is not reachable for at least 4 months during the year due to flash floods. This school building is also used as a shelter for villagers as well as other livestock during flood times and hence classes remain cancelled for long periods.
The only connecting bridge to Dihiri Chapori
Moreover, teachers of both the schools are not from this village. They have to walk approximately 1 -2 km from the National Highway to reach the schools. During flood season the teachers cancel classes as they can’t reach the schools due to flood. This leads to a weak educational foundation for all the children of this village. In regard to the socio-economic status, 90% of the households are BPL (Below Poverty Line) card holders. Those who are economically well-off, send their children to the nearby town for studies. However, those students are also affected during flood times when all connectivity to the main Highway gets damaged.
Month after month schools remains close and thus it impacts on education of child
Researchers have tried to establish the fact that the situation of Dihiri is a good example of the adverse effect of climate change. With this article we would like to motivate and encourage local residents to enhance their knowledge based on climate change and its adverse effect on their livelihood. As defined above, climate change over eastern Brahmaputra basin is mainly due to the anthropogenic activity, i.e. deforestation in a huge scale.
*Article republished from Biolink Vol 14. No. 1&2-2017.
About the Author:
Masfique A. Hazarika
The author started his career as a Research Assistant in Aaranyak. With an interdisciplinary background. He is presently working with Population Council, as a Field Coordinator in North East India.