The Functioning of Assam SAPCC needs a revamp

Article by Zeba Zoariah Ahsan

State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) is a document that is prepared for different Indian states on the side lines of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) that was launched in 2008. NAPCC has aims of creating awareness among the representatives of the public, different agencies of the government, scientists, industry and the community as a whole, on the threats posed by climate change. It focuses on eight missions, namely:

  1. National Solar Mission
  2. National Mission for enhanced energy efficiency
  3. National Mission on sustainable habitat
  4. National Water Mission
  5. National Mission for sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem
  6. National mission for green India
  7. National mission for sustainable agriculture
  8. National mission on strategic knowledge for climate change

The SAPCC of Assam was submitted by the Department of Environment and Forest, Government of Assam to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in September 2015.

Generated by Assam Remote Sensing Application Centre

Assam is located within the realm of the Himalayas with the mighty Brahmaputra flowing through the state and is subjected to recurring floods that have become more of a bane than a boon in recent years. The floods get very fewer media attention in the national scenario. There have been many stakeholders for the preparation of Assam SAPCC, namely, the Agriculture Department, Animal husbandry, fisheries, Tea Board, Water Resources Department, Public Health Engineering Department, Assam State Disaster Management Authority, Forest department, Biodiversity board, Tourism department, Inland Water Transport, Road transport, department of power, Gauhati University, etc.

When one tries to understand the climate of the region, the temperature ranges from 6o C- 38oC. Assam has a humid climate with the average annual rainfall ranging from 200-400 cm, making it an ideal place to grow water-intensive crops like rice and tea. The climatic conditions favour the growth of tropical semi-evergreen forests along with tropical wet evergreen, tropical dry deciduous, tropical moist deciduous and subtropical pine forests. This consequently means that the state has a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Assam’s SAPCC looks at climate trends from 1951 to 2010. There has been an increase in the annual mean maximum temperature by 0.02oC/year. There has also been an increase in the mean minimum temperature by 0.01oC. But, there has been a declining trend in rainfall by -2.96 mm/year, which could consequently suggest that there are droughts like conditions on the rise despite experiencing heavy floods year after year. The state has been further divided into regions to understand the trend in rainy days during monsoons. Barpeta district in West Assam has shown a decline of -2.22 days; Darrang district in north-central Assam has shown a decline by -2.82 days; Sivasagar district in Eastern Assam shows a decline of -2.75 days; NC Hills in Southern Assam shows a decline of -2.28 days.

The SAPCC mentions about two events of flash floods caused by extreme rainfall events. The first event occurred on June 14, 2008, in the Lakhimpur district due to flooding in the rivers of Ranganadi, Singara, Dikrong and Kakoi that inundated 50 villages, killed 20 people and displaced more than 10,000 people. The second incident occurred on October 26, 2008, in the post-monsoon season and affected a long strip of the area of Northern Assam valley adjoining the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh causing flash flooding in four major rivers that are tributaries of the Brahmaputra. This episode of flash floods caused by heavy downpour originated from the tropical depression ‘Rashmi’ in the Bay of Bengal and affected mainly the catchments of the rivers Puthimari, Jia-Bharali, Ranganadi and the Subansiri.

The district-level climate projections have been done from 2021 to 2050 using the climate model PRECIS, a model developed by the Hadley Centre, UK Meteorological office. The report suggests that the temperature will continue to rise and may increase by 1.7-2oC with respect to baseline. Only the western part of the state will experience a slight decrease in rainfall but the rest of Assam is projected to have an increase in rainfall. There is likely to be an increase in extreme rainfall events by 5% to 38% with respect to the base line. Drought weeks are going to rise, with southern districts showing a reduction in drought weeks but the rest of the districts shows an increase by more than 75% with respect to baseline. Floods on the other hand are going to rise by more than 25% in the southern parts of Assam.

The adaptation portion of the report looks mainly in the six key focus areas that have been followed while preparing the report, i.e.,

  1. Ensuring the sustainability of water resources.
  2. Ensuring the sustainability of agricultural systems.
  3. Protection and conservation of forests and bioresources.
  4. Making habitats climate-resilient.
  5. Ensuring energy sufficiency and efficiency.
  6. Addressing enhanced impacts of anticipated extreme events.

There has been a focus to manage floods and go for various adaptation strategies in the Brahmaputra-Bara river basins that are sustainable in practice, but very little has been achieved. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, things became even more difficult to manage because these river systems swell up.

It is interesting to note that there is no mention of any mission that talks about maintaining the Himalayan ecosystem. It must be noted that Assam is flanked by Arunachal Pradesh on the east which is a Himalayan state and has a shared ecosystem. On the western margins, on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, Assam shares a border of approximately 267.5 km with the neighbouring Himalayan country of Bhutan.

The document does not talk about any transboundary water management despite the fact that there have been issues of dam breaks in the past. Bhutan is an upper riparian country and produces a lot of hydroelectricity and massive amounts of flood break out during monsoons which heavily inundates parts of lower Assam. Lower riparian or downstream countries are always vulnerable to the effects of human-induced climate change. It should also be noted that the Manas National Park which is a UNESCO world heritage site in Assam is contiguous with the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. Hence, the entire area is ecologically sensitive, thus, requiring a lot of transboundary natural resource management.

The Assam SAPCC is an action plan designed only for a period of five years, i.e., from 2015-2020. While the short span of five years tries to focus on the food-water-energy nexus for immediate gains but the time frame of just five years make it difficult to understand climate change. For eg: the very definition of climate entails long term average weather patterns for a region so that decadal trends could be taken into consideration to understand climate change.

The Action Plan is holistic in terms of natural resource management, yet it misses out on transboundary management which is the need of the hour in a changing climate.

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