Call for Abstracts: Workshop on Flood Disaster Risk Reduction (Brahmaputra)

The Institute of Water Policy, along with Dibrugarh University, is organising a workshop on Disaster Risk Management (DRR) in the Brahmaputra Valley. The state of Assam in eastern India, along with most of North-East India, has experienced devastating floods this year. The workshop aims to provide a forum for sharing and learning for managing future floods.

The workshop organisers request an extended abstract [within 800-1000 words; maximum 2 tables (if required); 2 diagrams (if required)] latest by 31st October, 2017 in conformity with any of the six themes (Themes I-VI) mentioned in the end part of the attached file. We will try our best to publish a quickly peer reviewed ‘Abstract Volume’ with ISBN Number.

Secondly, we would like to request you to confirm your joining the Workshop which will be principally moderated by Professor Robert James Wasson from the National University of Singapore and a few other distinguished workers engaged presently in the multi-disciplinary mode of research works ;prepare a presentation (Power point) of 15 minutes’ duration (15-20 slides). This workshop is going to be a prelude for a future book on ‘Disaster Risk Reduction in the NE India’. We want the book to be an essential handbook for the researchers, policy makers, administrators, social workers and for any concerned citizen of the civil society who emphasise development of rational knowledge over any kind of quickly drawn perceptual knowledge, purely driven by immediate gain in the electoral politics and appeasement of highly selective stake holders. We tentatively plan to publish the book by October, 2018.

Abstracts to be submitted to Dr. Siddhartha Kumar Lahiri, Associate Professor & Coordinator, Department of Applied Geology.




                                                                  Dibrugarh University, Dibrugarh, Assam
                                                                                  15-16th November 2017
                                                 Dibrugarh University and National University of Singapore


The objective of the workshop is to provide a forum for sharing experience and learning lessons both from NE India and other regions that are trying to reduce the risk of future flood disasters. Some specific questions follow, from the answers to which it is expected that some practical recommendations will be derived:

 What more can policy-makers and ordinary citizens do to prepare for future floods?
 What can they do – and what have they been doing – to reduce the risk of future disasters?
 And what can they learn from – and share with – other regions that have encountered similar challenges?
 How can knowledge be used to aid public policy making in the valley?


The flood season of 2017 in the Brahmaputra Valley is likely to turn out to be one of the worst on record, judging from media reports and the UN News Centre ( As of 6th September 158 flood-related deaths had been reported, according to the Assam Water Resources Minister in the Assam Assembly, which is 151% higher than the average flood season total since 2001. Twelve districts have been severely impacted, 261 relief camps established, and 1.1 million people affected in Assam alone. Estimates of economic damage are not yet available. And none of these figures take account of the psychological toll.

Data for Assam on deaths and damage compiled by the Central Water Commission for the period 1953 to 2011 shows that damaging floods are a recurring problem, with a maximum death toll of 497 in 2004 during a large flood of about 80,000 cumecs but strangely little economic damage; a death toll of 232 and total economic damage of about 700 crore rupees (when adjusted for inflation to 2017 figures) during a flood of about 100,000 cumecs in 1988; and the largest flood on record in 1998, of about 110,000 cumecs, which killed 125 people but did little economic damage. 2017 is therefore not unique but each flood and flood season has different characteristics and impacts.

The dominant approach to flood mitigation in the Brahmaputra valley is by the construction of embankments to protect people, assets and livelihoods, a policy that can be thought of as a type of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Internationally DRR is a relatively new concept that was institutionalized in the Sendai Framework (

DRR is now part of official planning in India but its application is still at an early stage. The embankment-based DRR policy in the Brahmaputra valley gained strength after a damaging flood in 1954 that extensively damaged Dibrugarh and other settlements. The effectiveness and impact of embankments for flood protection was actively debated before 1954 and there is still debate because of embankment-induced water ponding and water logging, embankment breaches, and possibly because of their effect on behavioural change that leads to more settlement on floodplains that could be damaged during very large floods.

In the Brahmaputra valley there are other flood mitigation and response strategies such as flood warnings, evacuation procedures and relief camps, refuges within villages, and financial relief. Also, proposals have been made to build multi-purpose dams that will supply hydro electricity, water for agriculture and also offer flood control (as another form of DRR). There has been considerable debate about and criticism of dams for flood control worldwide, and in the Brahmaputra valley the most recent criticism is based on claims about water releases from the Ranganadi Dam in Arunachal Pradesh. The effectiveness of dams for flood control centres on design, the extent to which flood control is given priority, location, operating rules and their implementation, and their longevity that is largely dependent upon the rate of storage loss from sedimentation.

There has also been consideration of setting embankments back from the rivers to provide a larger area of floodplain over which water can spread, rehabilitating wetlands to store overbank floodwater, and river dredging for navigation and to allow water to pass along the channel rather than add to overbank flooding. Other possible DRR enhancements and initiatives include: land use zoning to limit settlement in flood-prone areas, zoning to allow the river to erode its banks without affecting livelihoods (see below), reforestation to slow runoff from the hills and mountains, enforcement of building codes, relocation of at-risk communities, insurance, and greater local governance responsibilities and resourcing.


The Brahmaputra River is one of the world’s largest and most powerful, many of its tributaries are also very large, and all of the rivers in the valley have high water discharges and sediment loads. The catchment has one of the world’s highest natural erosion rates, partially caused by great earthquakes that trigger enormous quantities of landslide sediment, much of which reaches the rivers causing them to aggrade thereby worsening floods. The high erosion rates may have been exacerbated by deforestation.

The dynamics of these rivers has been the subject of research for many decades, and it is now known that, along with large floods, channel sedimentation and widening are occurring simultaneously, leading to loss of agricultural land, settlements and livelihoods. There is an urgent need for an integrated study of the co-evolution of channel change, flooding, riverbank erosion, changes to river dynamics as a result of embankment construction, how flood-related deaths and economic damage relate to river changes and embankment construction, and the likely effect on channel change and floods of dams, reforestation and climate change. Ecologic values, that appears to have largely been neglected, also need to be understood in relation to all of the other changes.

Such an integrated analysis should be set in the context of a development agenda that is based largely on dam construction for hydro electricity generation that is also seen as a way of mitigating floods. For such an agenda to be of greatest benefit to the people of the valley, many of who is very poor, consideration must be given to a risk assessment that considers inter alia their location and the likelihood that they will mitigate floods.

The key question is: will dams create more flood problems than they solve? Despite acknowledgement by many observers of the complexity of the relationships between the catchment, rivers, floods, riverbank erosion, embankments, flood-related deaths and economic damage, and economic development, embankment construction is the dominant mitigation policy along with attempts to arrest riverbank erosion by engineered structures.

Moving beyond this narrow set of ‘solutions’ is now of paramount importance as past mitigation efforts do not appear to have had  anticipated benefits. And as the climate changes, perhaps in unanticipated ways, adaptation will need to be flexible thereby requiring different solutions for different circumstances. Despite an emphasis on flood DRR, it is expected that the workshop will contribute to widening the scope of solutions.


Welcome and Introduction
Session I : Risk Incubation (natural agencies)
Session II: Risk Incubation (man made)
Session III: Triggers of Disasters- Experiences and learning
Session IV: Disaster Impacts – Projections
Session V: Possible disaster risk reduction measures that will build on existing