Dr David Molden, the Director General (DG) of Kathmandu based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and also a world renowned water expert and an environmentalist talked to Monoj Gogoi
1. Dr Molden, you have visited Dihiri in Dhemaji district and Borsala in Lakhimpur district. Both of these two villages are worst flood affected villages of the region. You also interacted interacted with the communities of these two villages. What was the purpose of this visit? Will you share your experiences?
Ya, the purpose of the visit is to understand what’s happening in the sites. We have two different kinds of projects- one is the Community-Based Flood Early Warning System (CB-FEWS), the second one looks at how best to use remittances from the migrants to build up the livelihoods of the people. So these are important programmes, important ideas from ICIMOD and partners and so that’s the purpose of coming here. The second, to try and see how we can support, make those better programmes and make them widely available to the people here. So that it’s important that our team discusses with villagers, discusses partners and really see how we can support them.
2. The ICIMOD and Aaranyak jointly installed the CB-FEWS on the bank of Jiadhal river in Dhemaji district and also on the bank of Singora river of Lakhimpur district. As we are told by the community, due to the early warning from such machines it became possible for them to save their livestock, property and other valuables from the flood. What is your future planning regarding the CB-FEWS?
I think, well, it has to continue but not only to continue, we need an expanded network of the early warning system. So ideas that it has to be done with government and local partners. We need an improved and expanded network because what we heard from the communities also is that floods are really threatening livelihoods and possibly getting worse these days especially the sediment of the floods. So we had a situation where the people are highly vulnerable to floods, perhaps the vulnerability has been increasing . We have to do more in that area.
3. The rivers of this region are shared rivers. All the rivers that cause flood and erosion havocs in this part of Assam are either oozing out from Arunachal Pradesh or flowing through Arunachal Pradesh. But it has been noticed that there is no coordination between these two states. Both the states are not sharing any data. What can be done in this regard?
You know, what I noticed both the pan India, cross borders sharing data is extremely sensitive. But as I talking to my Chinese colleague. I asked “Can you help in facing flood problems? It’s more humanitarian issue.” He looked at “We don’t need to share water data, we can share the warning, the flood warning,” that was the way he could get around the issue. So we can presented in a way sharing warning that flood we can get away that contentious issue that sharing water data and what I think we have a possibility, I will be going to Itanagar today for this Indian Mountain Initiative Summit which starts from 7 th October. There one of the session is on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and so there is an opportunity to bring up this issue to both the people in Assam as well as in Arunachal Pradesh. I think it’s a very humanitarian issue. You lives in stake.
4. During flood or flash flood, these rivers carry huge amount of silt and debris to the downstream. The people from Arunachal Pradesh claim that they are losing fertile soil in their state and affected communities in Assam claim that widespread sandcasting degraded their agricultural lands and damage standing crops. How these problems can be tackled?
I think ICIMOD plus partners in India, but I think you really hit the nail on the head. We heard during our visit what’s the source of flooding, deforestation in the hills bring down more and more sediments. So on the one hand Arunachal Pradesh losing top soils and Assam losing fertile lands here. The story we need to tell the people that protect forests and protect the downstream. That’s the story I hope people drive to make change both parties -Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. And that’s story we need to tell helps protects the hills, helps the downstream people. Thats need to be stated in loud and clear, over and over again.
5. It is often alleged that the embankments and other engineering structures are not the permanent solution to floods. Is there any alternatives? How the flood problem can be controlled or mitigate in this region.
The other issues which I heard not just in Assam but many countries. People are going to built roads, railway lines etc, stops water, stops drainage and make the flood worse. So I think there is an engineering consideration, we need to pay more attention too. The embankments are always contentious issue because you know once you start building embankment almost have to continue forever. But I think one thing there is a solution from Assam that we should really look into much more living with floods. We heard the person from Dihiri, from the Mising tribe, right?, I was curious, you know, the Mising community like to live in riverbank. He was telling, “Our nature is to live with floods”. so I think there is clue what we can learn and study a little bit harder and take it seriously what people are doing in this area. You know adapting to flood and may be improving lifestyles that that could give us some clues of an alternative to embankment. The is an another approach of living in flood, not building permanent settlement on flood plains etc.
6. Do you think that basin wise study of these rivers will help in tackling/mitigating/managing flood and erosion?
Certainly the basin wise study can be done . I involved quite a bit in my careers. From small community skills room bigger river basins and to understand issues how people are connected through water. It is important to do basinwise studies. But the study needs not to be just about hydrology, they have to be about community, social science, how people manage water, how people more connected etc. So we saw today is interesting the flood early warning system was bringing people closer. The upstream villagers sharing information with the downstream people, and this connected the upstream and downstream people. So that’s should be a part of the basin where the water is coming from and where the water is going through.
7. We all know that the ICIMOD has been working on climate change and adaptation in various countries. Due to climate change, the intensity and frequency of flood and erosion are increasing in this region. The affected communities are adapting to it without any scientific knowledge. Will your organisation take any initiative to help these communities in adapting to climate change related disaster?
There are few points that I want to say . You know always that’s what happening environmental change, social change in addition to climate change . For example, deforestation is human, man-made change that could be making the flood worse than climate change. In the future, it is likely to have more intense rainfall, serious flood events, so combination of climate change plus each of the human made change
Climate plus change-that’s number one.
Secondly, ICIMOD is trying to helping several different places, number one, is just understanding what’s the impacts of all these changes and second was it how to adapt so we saw in Dihiri that flood early warning system is a key to adaptation that’s I would call more protective type of adaptation to floods. We need more than that, we need something that’s builds the livelihood appeal. This alternative in the face of disaster really helps is to have strong livelihood based. We have also seen what to do with the villagers with remittances from the migrants. We are also providing training how to better handle money that their husbands making money. Eerily are building the inner strengths of the community. On the one side we are protecting and on the other side building the core strength of the community. But the key to ICIMOD is to work with local partners – one is Aaranyak and the other is Institute of Integrated Rural Management (IIRM). They know the local reality, the second key is share knowledge to connect people to people throughout the mountain region. We get people from different parts of India, from different countries from the Himalayas. We share ideas all the time by face to face meeting , through literature, media video. We appreciate the role of media.
8. What will be the next phases of work with Aaranyak?
We have our pilots, somehow we can do better work for all of this, specially this we have flsh flood, and more dense network of flood early warning system, but I believe also that we need community and government supports. So for me the next step is lifting the game of one level. T Aaranyak is doing wonderful work with the community and it’s spreading.
Discussion with Dr David Molden, Director-General of International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).