India's "Climate-Change Refugees" Flee Rising Monsoon Flooding

"The Brahmaputra put the lives of millions at risk"
"The Brahmaputra put the lives of millions at risk"
Julien Bouissou

NEW DELHI – In 2012, out of the millions of people displaced by natural disasters around the world, over a quarter were from northeast India. Almost nine million inhabitants were forced to flee the region's devastating monsoon.

These forced displacements are a common occurrence. Floods have become so routine in Assam, a state located at the foothills of the Himalayas, irrigated by one of the world’s mightiest river – the Brahmaputra – that a special administrative post was created to deal with natural disasters. “Most flood victims flee to temporary shelter and wait for the water to flow back, then they just go back home, it’s the same thing every year,” explains Harendra Nath Borah, the functionary in charge of natural disasters.

The monsoon was particularly intense in 2012. And the severity of flooding could increase in the next few years under the effects of global warming and the because of the construction of new infrastructures near the Brahmaputra, which put the lives of millions at risk.

Swollen by the monsoon rains, this 2,900 kilometer-long river that takes its source in Tibet and flows through India and Bangladesh all the way to the Bengal Gulf is the reason why the region is unsafe. Legend has it that the river was born of one of Hindu God Vishnu’s incarnations who, after having murdered his mother, washed away his sins in a lake. That alone is enough to induce fear into the hearts of local inhabitants, who even call the river “blood” in the Assam idiom. It can become over 13 kilometers wide, and its flow is one of the fastest in the world. But between two monsoons, its land is so fertile that it attracts many farmers. Given the high demographic pressure, more and more people are looking to settle there permanently.

“The construction of infrastructures on land that belongs to the river increases the risks of severe flooding in areas that used to be spared until then,” explains Ashvin Gosain, professor at the New Delhi Indian Institute of Technology. During the monsoon, the buildings prevent the soil from absorbing the water and divert the stream, sometimes a little too impetuously, toward populated areas. When that happens, it turns into a devastating flood.

Deforestation along the river also promotes the deposit of sediments. The Brahmaputra overflows more frequently and its banks are disappearing as a result of erosion. According to Indian Minister For Water Resources Harish Rawat, 1,850 Indians drown each year because of the floods.

The surface area of the largest river-island in the world, Majuli, on the Brahmaputra, has lost half its size to erosion since 1950. Most of its inhabitants now live in bamboo huts on stilts, which are easy to rebuild after each flood. Others have already left the region.

Mountain tsunamis and broken levees

Experts fear that the floods are going to continue to get worse over the next few years because of global warming. In the heights of the Himalayas, the glacial lakes, which are fed by melting glaciers, threaten to overflow the natural levees that were containing them. At the slightest earthquake and pressure of the water, their walls could give, creating “mountain tsunamis” strong enough to wipe out everything in their path. Satellite photos show at least 320 glacial lakes in Sikkim, an Indian state located in the Himalayas. The populations living in these high-altitude regions are the most vulnerable.

A rise in temperatures could also lead to more intense monsoon precipitations. “In some regions, increases in heavy precipitation will occur despite projected decreases in total precipitation in those regions,” wrote the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2012 special report.

A report by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests goes even further. The report says “all the regions show an increase in the flooding varying between 10 to 30% of the existing magnitudes. This has a very severe implication for the existing infrastructures such as dams, bridges, roads, etc, for the areas, and shall require appropriate adaptation measures to be taken up.”

If the floods worsen, the Indian government will need to engage in a daunting task: to consolidate and resize the many dams of the Brahmaputra. Another solution would be to dig canals and reservoirs by the river to absorb the flow, store water and reduce the risk of destructive floods

The room for manoeuver is limited. India is not the only country that wants to regulate the flow of this river, which takes its source in China. In addition, any intervention on the Brahmaputra has the effect of changing the direction and power of the current as well as the sediment transportation and ultimately the downstream route of the river. Not to mention the fact that during monsoon season the flow of the river reaches 50,000 cube-meters per second, and can hardly be contained.

“Such a force of nature cannot be tamed by man. It is better to adapt by first reducing the residential areas around the Brahmaputra,” says Professor Gosain. The Indian government is aware of the risks to the population. In 2006, it created an authority tasked with the management of natural disasters, which launched a flood warning system.

Though it might have little power to limit the number of people displaced by Climate Change, India can at least start by saving lives.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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