Guwahati, July 1: In any natural calamity--earthquake or flood--it is the local people, because of their knowledge of the surrounding terrain, act as experts in the rescue and rehabilitation process.
However, most often visiting officials and members of the disaster management teams forget to use the local expertise to reach out to the maximum numbers of victims.
Lately, in flood-hit Assam, officials have realised the importance of local boatmen and swimmers that they can play a major role in saving lives. Thus these local men have been hired as a part of the official rescue mission.
As floods created havoc in Assam once again, this year, Majuli district administration and the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), decided to hire local boatmen and swimmers in their official rescue teams.
Because of regular floods and erosion, Majuli, the 480 square km river island district in Upper Assam, not only have witnessed loss of lives and properties, but the island is in the verge of extinction.
Now, for the first-time, Majuli's boatmen and swimmers have become officially part of the disaster management plan. Around 90 country boats have been hired by the district administration and the ASDMA for rescue operation in the island.
Moreover, six swimmers have been provided training to assist them in case of drowning or if people get stuck in flood waters.
"This time, we have tried to involve the community by training and making area-wise groups with officials, boatmen, swimmers and local youths to help the administration in rescue and relief operations besides rehabilitation. We have held 12 meetings of people living near the embankments to make them aware of the vulnerable stretches so that they can inform the rescue team in case of possible breaches and ensure that people can be shifted immediately. We had a meeting with the boatmen and swimmers on May 23 so that they can help us in rescue work," Majuli deputy commissioner Pallab Lochan Jha told The Telegraph.
Officials are conducting regular meetings with gaonburhas (village headmen) to take stock of the problems in their villages. According to officials, special attention is given to Majuli during floods, as out of the 141 revenue villages, 62 are most-vulnerable to floods and erosion every year.
"The country boats have been requisitioned for deployment near the vulnerable villages so that the boatmen can rush there in case of drowning or rescuing people stuck in floods. The gaonburhas will either inform the disaster management cell in the deputy commissioner's office or the boatmen directly to carry out rescue operations," said Papori Boruah, field officer of the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), Majuli.
According to statistics, because of erosion Majuli's size has reduced to 480 square km in 2014 from 1,245.12 square km in 1950. A total of 4,301 families have been affected because of erosion since 2000, while 11,076.81 hectares of crop area have been affected during the same period.
In Assam, floods have affected more than 2.68 lakh people in Barpeta, Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Karimganj, Cachar, Dhemaji, Karbi Anglong and Biswanath districts, this monsoon.
The ASDMA's report said 453 villages have been inundated and over 5,272 hectares of crop area damaged by the swirling flood waters.
Karimganj is the worst hit with 1.53 lakh sufferers. 76,000 people have been affected in Lakhimpur. 5,670 people have taken shelter in 269 relief camps set up in four districts.