The Northeast India, consisting of the eight states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, presents a distinctive geophysical unit set in the pristine Eastern Himalayan Region with a unique physiographic framework, a vigorous monsoon dominated climatic regime and a dynamic hydro-geomorphic regime. Endowed with a sub (extra) tropical type of monsoonal climate, the region shows remarkable variability of weather and climate on a regional scale and forms a distinct climatic zone within the Indian landmass. Comprising mainly of the basins if three of the large river systems of the world viz. the Brahmaputra, the Barak (Meghna) and the Irrawady, the NER possesses the richest treasure-trove of water resources in India. It possesses about 30% of the total water resources potential and about 41 % of the total hydropower potential of India. The per capita and per hectare availability of water in this region is the highest in the country. The NE India is one of the wettest as well as most acutely flood prone zones of the world.
The Water Climate and Hazard Programme (WATCH) of AARANYAK was launched in the year 2001 and till now its activities have been carried out by the Water Resources and EIA Division of AARANYAK. The WATCH programme has been conceived to carry out intensive scientific study of the key issues related to water and climate of the region including the human and societal dimensions of these issues. Designed initially for a period of five years (2001-2005) the WATCH programme covers the following activities: -
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- Comprehensive assessment of eco-systems of important river basins of the region.
- Assessment of environmental impacts of ongoing and proposed water resources projects such as large river dams.
- Documentation of flood & erosion hazards.
Under the WATCH Programme of AARANYAK several important programmes were undertaken during this period 2005-2007.
Two workshops were organised at Guwahati and Itanagar on Hydropower and Biodiversity with support from the Bombay Natural History Society (Mumbai). The Guwahati workshop was held on May 28-29, 2005 at the Indian Institute of Bank Management, Guwahati while the Itanagar consultative workshop was Organised at the North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh on May 13, 2006. Both these successful events were attended by a host of researchers, academicians, policy makers and civil society leaders. Mr. Newlai Tingkhatra, Honourable Minister of Environment and Forest, Arunachal Pradesh and the Chief Guest of the Itanagar workshop appreciated AARANYAK’s efforts to sensitize people about the natural resources of the region and the impact of development projects on the environment and the people of the region.
New Project on Climate Change Adaptation
The northeastern region is a hotbed of the southwest monsoons which make it one of the wettest areas in South Asia as well as a hotspot of water induced disasters. Several studies have predicted significant changes in the weather-climate and water regimes of the Himalayan region in the coming decades because of impacts of global climate change. The consequent social, economic, livelihood and environmental implications in the eastern Himalayan region are also of immediate concern to scientists and policy makers. The north-eastern region of India has already been experiencing rainfall extremes, more frequent and intense floods, moderate to intense drought like situations, flash flooding due to GOLF (Glacial Lake Outburst Flood) and LDOF (Landslide Dam Outburst Flood) in the Bhutan and Tibet Himalayas and increasing river bank erosion and sand casting because of changing geomorphological behaviour of the rivers. The region suffers paradoxically both from water excess as well as water crises. Riparian people of a downstream state like Assam are always at the receiving end from fluctuating and changing character of rainfall and rivers.
Scores of communities living on the banks of hundreds of the rivers of the state have traditionally been adapting to different water induced events and hazards making use of their indigenous knowledge and wisdom. Changes brought into the hydrological realms of the rivers and the weather and climate because of climate change, which is primarily of anthropogenic origin, has thrown the basic premise of the indigenous knowledge based practices out of gear making it necessary for the coping mechanisms to cope with the changed geo-ecological and social realities. It makes an interesting learning of how lives and practices of ecosystem communities have very slowly but surely been undergoing changes under the clout of these new environmental situations in a river and water dominated landscape of Assam. Equally engaging is the fact that amidst the seeming abundance of water everywhere, there exist many small arid islands where water is never enough. The Water Climate and Hazard Programme of AARANYAK has decided to explore deep into this dichotomy and study how the concerned communities of the state have responded then and now to such extremes to survive and sustain their lives and livelihoods.
AARANYAK has recently launched a study on Study of changing flood and drought patterns and documentation of community coping practices in Assam. The three main objectives of this study are:
- To document people’s experiences of the changing nature of rainfall, floods and drought like situations across the Brahmaputra valley for last 20 years.
- How communities in riparian, flood prone and drought prone areas have responded to and coped with the changing water availability and flooding scenarios, and
- Examine the changing nature of the floods and drought like situations in Assam through analysis of hydro-meteorological characteristics of rainfall(temporal variability and spatial distribution) and flood(water level and discharge) in the last 20 years since the mega flood of 1988.
Dr. Partha J. Das, Programme Head, WATCH is the Principal Investigator of the project.
This project has been undertaken in response to the recent concerns raised by the global climate scientist community about the remarkable changes expected in the hydrological and regimes of the Himalayan river basins due to climate change. Estimating changes in rainfall and flood characteristics in the hydro-meteorological context and then integrating the observations with real life community experiences provides an effective means of assessing climate change impacts. Studying response to water stresses, coping mechanism and adaptation strategies that communities have practised traditionally and have improvised or developed to adjust to changing water environment in recent times will yield information and knowledge about adaptation practices necessitated by climate change impacts in the local context. In addition to the knowledge and practices systems of communities that have evolved from within the community structure, external interventions by non-Government and Government agencies such as information and knowledge input, introduction of new technology and best practices methods in water management, agriculture, disaster preparedness etc. also lead to new adaptation techniques or influence the existing ones to make them more innovative. This is another aspect that will be explored in this project.
Started as an in-house project, the study will be carried out in some of the most flood-ravaged and flood prone areas of the state (such in Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Morigaon, Kamrup, Barpeta and Dhubri districts) as well as those that have experienced severe drought conditions in the last twenty years (Southern part of Nagaon district, Darrang, Golaghat, Karbi-Anglong and North Cachar districts).
- Water and Health: Case studies on heath hazards due to flooding and ground water contamination, completed.
- Eco-hydrological appraisal of Important River basins in Northeast India using geospatial techniques: Kameng/Jiabhoroli and Manas river basins, completed.
Major Research/Study commissioned
- Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach to sustainable development in northeast India: A study in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, commissioned in the year 2006. It is expected to be completed in 2008.
- Climate Change and Northeast India: Assessment of hazard, vulnerability and risk and Development of an Environmental and Human Security Strategy, commenced in 2006 to be completed in 2008.
- Global Climate Change and its Implications for Northeast India: Scenarios, Concerns and Opportunities, started in 2007, to be completed in 2008.
- Imperatives of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Carbon Economy for Northeast India in the global climate change context, commissioned in 2007, to be completed in 2008.
- Riverine ecosystems of Assam: Can they cope with environment and climate changes? Conceptualized in 2007, to be completed in 2009.
Partha Jyoti Das, Ph.D
Head, Water Climate and Hazard (WATCH) Programme, Aaranyak