Volume I Number I February (2012) pp. 157-64   The Clarion  ISSN: 2277-1697

Assessment of adaptations to floods through bottom up approach: a case of three agro climatic zones of Assam, India

Suparana Katyaini1, Anamika Barua2, Bhupen Mili3

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Guwahati, Assam, India

1Research Scholar, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Guwahati, Assam, India (Email: [email protected])
2Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Guwahati, Assam, India
3Research Scholar, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Guwahati, Assam, India


To unearth the priorities  in Assam to cope with floods effectively, the  prime objective of this research study is on assessment of the adaptation measures, structural and non-structural,  to floods in three districts of Assam, viz. Dhemaji, Jorhat and Dhubri representing North Bank Plains, Upper  Brahmaputra Valley and Lower Brahmaputra Valley, agro-climatic zones  respectively. Bottom up approach was adopted to gather the quantitative data from various concerned departments and qualitative data by holding focus group discussions. The bottom up approach was considered crucial as the society’s decisions are essential to make an adaptation measure successful.  The findings of the study reveal that there are various lacunae leading to the weak adaptation capacity of the communities. Structural  priorities  are  infrastructure to prevent the damage at the time of incidence of floods, agricultural infrastructure, health care infrastructure  as they are weak and inadequate; the  non-structural  priorities are watershed management, forest management, communication and coordination between various stakeholder groups,  micro finance, and strengthening of self help groups to enhance the adaptation capacity. The study recommends that strengthening the knowledge and data base of the study region along with developing socially and economically feasible adaptation measures would immensely help in enhancing the adaptation capacity of the communities.

Keywords: Adaptation, Assam, Bottom-up approach, Community, Flood.


Floods and erosion have been occurring in various regions across the globe since many centuries; however the flood incidences have become erratic in recent years in some regions. To understand the impact of floods it is crucial to assess the underlying factors that have resulted in excessive flooding in the region and the vulnerability of community to flood. The prime underlying factor which has resulted in excessive flooding is the man made factors in addition to the natural causes. The Fourth Assessment Report (2007) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that ‘heavy precipitation events, which are very likely to increase in frequency, will augment flood risk’. Over the past decades, there are growing evidences that with continued climate change, the pattern of floods across all continents has been changing, becoming more frequent, intense and unpredictable.  The man made flood is due to various developmental activities and inappropriate protection measures taken to counter the damage from the hazard.

Vulnerability to a hazard like flood is a resultant of the three factors which are exposure to the hazard, susceptibility to it and resilience capacity of the community; resilience capacity of the community acts as a positive aspect as it reduces the vulnerability of the community and is an inherent feature of the community (UNESCO-IHE, 2009).  Mitigation of climate change impacts and adaptation to them are both necessary to minimize the   losses (Adger, N., & Kelly, M. (1999).  Adaptation measures aid in coping with the hazards in short, medium and the long term, its success depends upon the capacity of the community to adapt to any unforeseen event and capacity to adapt varies across region, societies and income groups. The differences reflect a number of factors such as location, wealth, mobility, education, health etc. Therefore enhancing adaptive capacity i.e. increasing systems coping capacity and coping rage is ubiquitously needed. Another promising method to design socially benign and culturally appropriate adaptation policies is to document and understand local strategies to cope with climate change. The protection measures against floods and erosion from river flow depend on the policy measures and their implementation which combine structural with human and institutional capability building measures.

In India the perception on climate change has rapidly evolved from reactive to proactive approach in India as a result of which National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) came into existence in 2008-09. This plan acts as guiding tool for formulating and improving the policies on both the mitigation and adaptation aspects on eight priority themes called as National Missions at a decentralized level, such as state ,  district, etc.  (Government of India, 2009). The prime focus of this research study is on assessment of the adaptation process to floods in three districts of Assam representing three different agro-climatic zones to unearth the priorities which need to be addressed to cope with floods effectively.  Agro-climatic zones are considered as Assam’s economy is agriculture based and agriculture sector is extremely vulnerable to floods and impact of climate change on the agriculture sector and also the water resources. A bottom-up approach is adopted for this study as societies’ and communities’ decisions are necessary for appropriate adaptation measures to short term climate variability and long term climate changes (Markandya & Mishra, 2011). There is a dearth of literature on adaptation to climate change, which necessitates uptaking of this research study.

Brahmaputra River and study area

Floods in Assam are caused by the majestic River Brahmaputra. A lifeline of many communities; the river becomes life threatening during the rainy season when it causes severe

floodingalong its bank, assimilating large chunks of cropland and homesteads, due to erosion.  As per the SWOT analysis4 of the agriculture sector of Assam, natural calamities like flood are a predominant threat; around 4.75 lakh hectares equivalent to 19.1% of Net Area Sown is chronically flood prone in Assam (Government of Assam, n.d.).

History of flood in Assam

One of the natural causes of flood in River Brahmaputra is the major earthquake that occurred in Assam in the year 1950 which resulted in rise of the river bed thus submerging large areas and causing floods in new areas where floods never occurred previously. The severity of floods increased and the flood waters which inundated an area for just few days continued to remain flooded for several weeks causing water logging and damage to crop. This also led to health hazards. Erosion and siltation too have shown a rapid increase. In recent years, the impact of climate change and weather variability on aggravating the situation has been scientifically established. After 1950, floods have been continuously occurring in the State. The history of flood occurrences in Assam has been given below. After1950, floods occurred in Assam in ’54, ’62, ’66, ’72, ’74, ’77, ’78, ’ 84, ’86, ’87, '88, '89, '90, '91,'92, '93, '94, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, '2000, and is still continuing (NIC,n.d.)

Figure1: Number of villages affected by flood

Source: Statistical Handbook of Assam, 2009

Thousands of villages affected by the floods in Assam during 1982 to 2008 (Figure 1) indicating heavy losses. To mitigate the ill-impacts and adapt to floods, the Government of Assam has taken several initiatives to protect the people and infrastructure. However, these measures will produce effective results only when they were employed in an integrated manner and include vulnerability reduction as an additional but key element. Lessons suggest that structural and non-structural measures for flood risk reduction should be integral parts of both the overall development process and relief and recovery activities in response to floods or other disaster events that occur along the way.

One district of each of the following three agro-climatic zones was identified as the representative of the agro-climatic zones (Figure 2) to capture the structural and non-structural adaptation to floods.

Figure 2: Map depicting Agro Climatic Zone of Assam

Source: http://online.assam.gov.in/image/image_gallery?img_id=143299&t=1329256072361

North Bank Plains: Dhemaji district

The agro-economic zone, North Bank Plains, is characterized by an average rainfall of 1000 mm per year; fifty per cent of total rainfall is during the monsoon season. It is highly humidity (more than 80 % relative humidity). The temperature range is 50C to 370C during the month of January and period of July-August, respectively.  The soil varies from acidic, neutral to less acidic in the three belts of the zone descending from the foothills to river bank. Major crops cultivated in the zone are rice, rape, mustard and sugarcane (Assam Agricultural University, 2011; ICAR, 2011).

Upper Brahmaputra Valley: Jorhat district

The climate of the Upper Brahmaputra Valley is characterized by high rainfall, i.e., more than 2000 mm per annum and high relative humidity (more than 80%). The temperature range is 50C to 370C. The soils are mostly new alluvium near the Brahmaputra and old alluvium in the central belt of the zone which comprises of acidic soil. Main crops cultivated are rice, rape, mustard and sugarcane (Assam Agricultural University, 2011; ICAR, 2011).

Lower Brahmaputra Valley: Dhubri district

The average rainfall in the Lower Brahmaputra Valley is about 1700 mm per annum. Rainfall is high in the north and west and is low in the south-eastern part.  The temperature range is from 100C to 310C.Soil comprises of new alluvium on the banks of Brahmaputra and old alluvium in the foot hills. Soil is acidic in reaction, and a large area is also covered by neutral soil. The major crops cultivated in the district are rice, jute, rape and mustard, potato, wheat and pulses (Assam Agricultural University, 2011; ICAR, 2011).

The three districts are selected as they face high incidences of flood, erosion and siltation; the economy is primarily agriculture; there is a high rate of poverty, which is a feature of all agriculture based economies (Namara et al., 2009).


The methodology followed for this research activity was based on a multidisciplinary approach which allowed an integrated view of scientific, social, and economic aspects to encompass both the biophysical and socioeconomic vulnerability to floods. Data was collected at district and community levels from secondary and primary sources, respectively. Secondary data collected was primarily quantitative in nature from various government records of Assam State Disaster Management Authority, District Disaster Management Authority, Irrigation and Flood Control Department, Directorate of Economics and Statistics etc.  as cited in the Statistical Hand book of Assam. Primary data collection was mainly qualitative in nature through focus group discussions (FGDs) with the vulnerable groups; and key person interviews were held with officials of various concerned departments, and old and educated people of the community who could provide an analytical view based on their experience and knowledge. One block was selected in Dhemaji, Jorhat  and Dhubri districts,  respectively and FGDs were held in 2 villages in each blocks with male and mixed groups (comprising of male and female both) (Fig. 3 ).

Figure 3: Methodology followed during the study

While the secondary data helped in gaining understanding of the socio-economic status, the risks and the level of vulnerability in the selected districts and the research gaps; the primary data collection helped in documenting the present coping strategies of the flood affected communities, identify best practices and also identify gaps in the present measures initiated either by communities or government to reduce their vulnerability.

The secondary and primary data was collated and is discussed in the result and discussion section in the context of vulnerability to floods and adaptation measures classified as structural and non structural measures.

Results and discussion

District Structural Adaptation Non- Structural Adaptation
Dhemaji 1.      Chang Ghar(Stilt House)
2.      High raised platform
3.      Country boats always kept ready; banana rafts, bamboo rafts used.
4.      High raised platforms/ embankments
1. Migration
2. Change in cropping pattern
3. Relief and Relief camp
Jorhat 1. Chang Ghar(Stilt House)
2. High raised platform
3. Construction of spurs to control erosion along the flood prone banks of the River Brahmaputra
1  Migration
2  Relief and Relief camp
1. High raised platform
2. Construction of embankments to control flood
3. Spurs (Porcupine structures) to reduce erosion
1  Migration
2  Change in cropping pattern (summer season paddy (Kharif) is cultivated in winters to cope with floods in monsoon season); crop diversification
3 Distribution of Relief

Table1: Compiled from various stakeholder discussions

The consultations held with various stakeholders have resulted in highlighting the major structural and non structural adaptation measures stated in table 1. The communities perceive flood to be a part of their life and have designed some local structural (Chang ghars(stilt houses),banana rafts)  and non structural ( changing the cropping pattern by cultivating hybrid crops and crop diversification) adaptation measures. Among the three districts, stakeholders from Dhubri district have been able to take risks indicated by crop diversification and small scale dairy farming to reduce their vulnerability to recurrent floods. Whereas in Dhemaji and Jorhat the stakeholders expressed that they are falling into the poverty trap which limits their capacity to take risks and build their adaptive capacity. The stakeholders from all the three districts felt that the adaptation measures in place are not sufficient in minimizing the damage caused by flood and erosion. There seems to be a wide communication gap between various stakeholder groups despite the fact that the floods have been occurring since centuries. The technology used in agriculture has started   improving gradually. Migration of youth is rampant and this is weakening the agriculture system.

An interesting finding of the study was that the women play almost negligible role in the decision making process of the household, except in some of the tribal communities in Assam (cited in Dhemaji and Jorhat). Further, women of the poor households are the most vulnerable to hazards like floods. The women are most concerned about sanitation and health issues during the incidence of floods as expressed in the FGDs. They also have to go to toilet and for bath by banana raft hence the hygiene becomes a concern during floods. The women are primarily engaged in the household activities. They face a lot of inconvenience as they have the responsibility of collecting fuel wood for cooking, which becomes a very difficult task during the period of flood. As the children and elderly are vulnerable to floods the women have additional responsibility to help them. Very few women are engaged in livelihood activities other than their household activities, they are involved in a few agriculture activities, livestock rearing (poultry and goat) and in some cases small scale production of products like incense sticks, e.g. agarbatties in Birsing Jarua. In adaptation process women play a supporting role for the entire family by planning for the food requirements of the family and in the post flood phase, aid in restructuring the house.

Furthermore, the structural and non structural adaptation measures which need to be addressed as priorities by government authorities, civil society, communities and individuals to effectively cope with floods and associated losses are discussed below.

Structural Measures ( to reduce exposure and increase susceptibility)

Non- Structural measures to increase resilience to climate hazards

  • Flood as well as earthquake resistant structures & retrofitting old vulnerable structures
  • Flood proofing of structures
  • Water harnessing and water harvesting structures
    • Cold storages and granaries
    • Health centers and mobile medical clinics:both in land and rivers i.e. ambulance in ferries for Islands and chapories.



  • Watershed Management: Scientific management of water sheds
  • Forest management: Managing forests for controlling soil degradation, and providing food, fiber and fodder to communities during stressful periods thus acting as safety nets.
  • Afforestation :to reduce surface runoff and large scale soil erosion and landslides.
  • Stakeholder Capacity building:Training, awareness and skill development of all stake holders starting from political leaders to bureaucrats, scientific community and local people.
  • Coordination:
  • Within the state :
    • Among various stakeholders and Govt. line departments
    • Interstate coordination:Between neighboring hilly states of Nagaland, meghalaysa nad Arunachal pradesh, so that they may take up afforestation and scientific watershed management.
    • International coordination: Between neighboring  countries like China, Bhutan and Bangladesh
  • Research and documentation
  • Micro finance and self help groups

Table 2: The structural and non structural adaptation measures which need to be addressed


The adaptation capacity of the communities is fairly low which can be enhanced by two most important broad developments. These are addressing the lacunae in   the knowledge and data base, and research on cost effective and socially and economically feasible adaptation measures.

Knowledge and data base

The data on climate parameters for a long period of time forms the prerequisite for quantifying the impact of climate change hence to build the database on climate change there is a need to establish more observation facilities in future.5

There is a need to study the impacts of floods in various spheres like biophysical, ecological socio-economic, etc. and integrate the traditional and indigenous knowledge (TIK) of the communities and ethnic groups in the studies.

The communities have started realizing the impacts of climate change in terms of fluctuation in frequency and intensity of floods. There is a low level of awareness on the scientific and regular record keeping of the extent of these fluctuations by concerned technical departments associated with the state government. Therefore, there needs to be channelization of the resources for generating awareness, and bridging the communication gap between the government departments and the communities. This would further achieve the objective of information-sharing and data networking on climate change which is high on the agenda of climate change research. This is also in accordance with the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change is designed to strengthen the database on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation. Weak database and research has been a bottleneck in formulating and implementing effective policy measures.

The indicators of social vulnerability to floods are not explored to an extent which aids in adaptation process to minimize the damage, this area of research would be also require policy relevant analysis to influence the policymakers and also the implementation agencies. 

Socially and economically feasible adaptation measures

The lacunae in the cost effectiveness of various adaptation measures and also their suitability need to be addressed by future research activities for resource allocation in most suitable and cost effective adaptation measures to minimize the loss.

Further, as the respondents expressed that there is no formal or structured community led initiative to cope with the floods, it is extremely difficult to determine the demand for particular adaptation measures. This is a major obstacle in adopting a demand driven approach to implement adaptation measures.

Technology plays an important role in building the adaptation capacity of the communities. The research and development as well as lab to field transfer of the technologies in the spheres of agriculture, water resources management, pest control, disease monitoring and control   would be crucial for enhancing the adaptation process.


The authors would like to thank IUCN for funding the research project titled “Ecosystems For Life- a India Bangladesh Initiative” without which this research would not have been feasible. This paper is a part of the sub-theme on adaptation. The authors would like to express their gratitude to the stakeholders who contributed to the discussions which formed an essential basis of this research activity. The authors would also like to acknowledge the contribution of Ms. Rachna Yadav, Research Scholar, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Guwahati for being a part of this study and sharing her immense knowledge and experience on the theme.


AdgerN, & Kelly M, 1999.Social vulnerability to climate change and the architecture of entitlement. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategy for Global Change, 253-266.

 Assam Agricultural University, 2011.  Agro-climatic zones of Assam. Available at: http://www.aau.ac.in/dee/annexture6.php.   Retrieved 5 January 2012

ICAR, 2011.Agro-climatic zones of Assam. Available at: http://www.rkmp.co.in/content/agro-climatic-zones-of-assamRetrieved on  4 October 2011

D.M. Branch of D.C'S Office, D. 2011.District Disaster Management Plan of Dhubri. Dhubri: D.M. Branch of D.C'S Office, Dhubri.

EscalaldaM, & Heong K L, 2009.Focus Group Discussion. Available at: http://ricehoppers.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/focus-group-discussion.pdf

Retrieved 2 November  2011

Government of Assam, n.d. Agriculture and Irrigation in Assam.Available at:  http://online.assam.gov.in/agricultureandrrigation.

Government of India, 2009 National Action Plan on Climate Change, Available at: pmindia.nic.in/Climate%20Change.doc, Retrieved on  20 July 2010

IPCC, 2007.Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Available at: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/ch10s10-es.html. Retrieved on 4 October 2011

MarkandyaA & Mishra A 2011.Costing Adaptation: Preparing for climate change in India. TERI, Delhi, India

Namara, R E, Hanjra M A, Castillo G E, Ravnborg H M, Smith L, Koppen B V, 2009. Agricultural water management and poverty linkages, Agricultural Water Management

NIC.(nd). Flood History from Official Website of Dhemaji District Available at: http://dhemaji.nic.in/flood/flood_history.htm. Retrieved 15 December , 2011.

UNESCO-IHE.2009. Flood Vulnerability Indices. Delft, The Netherlands: Institute for Water Education.

4 SWOT analysis: Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat
5In Assam there are only three meteorological centres in Assam, located in Kamrup, Dibrugarh and Jorhat districts.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Published by Centre for Environment, Education and Economic Development (CEEED), Assam.