|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
1. India is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Flooding is a major recurrent natural disaster, causing annual damage of $450 million on average, with increasing severity in the recent years. High flood risk discourages private investments in productive activities, and is thus a key contributor of persistent regional and rural-urban disparity. In many cases, the poorest segment of the society suffers the greatest risk and damage. Vulnerability is particularly high in eastern and northeastern India where poverty level is high.
The Government of India is promoting state level sector reforms through its National Water Policy revised in 2002, advocating comprehensive structural and nonstructural measures
integrated with improved catchment management pursued with a long term planning framework. Strengthening resilience against water disaster is also one of the key elements of the Climate Change Action Plan of the Government of India (the Government) defined in 2009.
2. Assam is located in alluvial plains and adjacent low hilly terrains of the Brahmaputra River basin. The state remains one of the poorer states in India. Despite recent acceleration of
its economic growth led by broad economic and fiscal reforms, disparity against the national average income has still been widening. Effective flood risk management remains high on the state's development agenda, since substantial majority of its urban and agriculture area is located in flood prone areas, and suffering from devastating damages in high flood years. Yet the task is quite challenging, given massive flood discharges of the Brahmaputra River and its highly dynamic morphology, caused by extreme rainfall and fragile subsoil in its catchment, and heavy sediment transport. Addressing the problems calls for a comprehensive long term perspective and sound policy and planning framework as advocated by the Government.
3. The state government of Assam (SGOA) through Water Resources Department (WRD) has extended embankments and associated structures to protect about 50% of its flood-prone area. Yet their effectiveness is constrained due to poor designs overlooking local drainage, insufficient maintenance, failure due to river erosion, and limited stakeholder participation. High priority needs to be accorded to improving the reliability of existing embankment systems with assured maintenance. Where feasible, riverbank protection needs to be provided systematically and adaptively in response to the dynamic morphology, and exploring more cost-effective and sustainable innovations such as the use of geo-textile fabrics. Nonstructural measures need to be introduced such as risk education, risk mapping and warning, and flood proofing. These should be pursued with sound knowledge development to understand complex morphology and floodplain hydrology, and participatory mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability.
4. SGOA initiated economic reforms in the early 2000s aiming at inclusive growth with stronger governance and people's participation. A partnership with ADB has been established in strategic sectors including flood management. SGOA has initiated reform steps including (i) establishing the state Water Resources Council (headed by Chief Minister) and Board as sector apex bodies to guide the reform process; (ii) drafting a state water policy (SWP) with a vision towards setting up integrated water resources management system; (iii) including holistic FRERM as a prime element of the draft SWP setting out a sound strategy to this end; and (iv) notifying National Disaster Management Act and establishing disaster management organizations (DMOs) at state and local government levels. For the purpose of establishing and demonstrating holistic and sustainable FRERM in partnership with ADB, SGOA set up Assam Integrated FRERM Agency (AIFRERMA) in 2009, an autonomous body anchored to WRD with multidisciplinary structure, stable leadership, high level oversight, and timely fund flow. A roadmap to consolidate its effective operations has also been prepared, covering strategic planning, improved infrastructure quality, and sustainable maintenance.
5. The Government and SGOA in their 11th Five-year Plan (FYP: 2008/12) have placed significantly high priority for extending effective FRERM systems in flood prone areas. This has provided a basis for the Facility: Assam Integrated Flood and Riverbank Erosion Risk Management Investment Program (AIFRERMIP). The initial engagement with AIFRERMIP will take a focused approach on three selected and appraised subprojects having existing embankments protecting critical urban and productive rural areas. They cover some 90km (7% of total) reaches of the Brahmaputra River in the state. Innovations and international best practices and lessons have been drawn, in terms of (i) knowledge development, (ii) more cost effective, adaptive, and sustainable alternatives in structural and nonstructural instruments, and (iii) holistic program delivery with improved governance, with stakeholder participation, stringent infrastructure quality control, integration with disaster management and livelihood promotion programs, and accountability mechanisms in program management. The AIFRERMIP is needed as the first step towards state wide application of comprehensive FRERM over the longer term. Wider scale replication is envisaged upon its successful implementation, and progressive strengthening of the institutional and knowledge bases.
6. The AIFRERMIP will institutionalize comprehensive risk management systems to cope with critical water disasters in Assam. It will demonstrate the following: (i) Establishment of a sound planning framework of holistic FRERM as a basis for strategic and systematic implementation of sector programs, (ii) Comprehensive structural and nonstructural measures, with introduction of costeffective, sustainable, and innovative riverbank protection adaptive to natural river processes, and nonstructural measures applied in a limited scale in Assam, (iii) Focused support for institutional development, including (a) knowledge base, (b) autonomous AIFRERMA with multi-disciplinary and accountable implementation with stable leadership, and (c) reforms and capacity strengthening of WRD, (iv) Integration of disaster and FRERM operations, with DMOs empowered to join all decision making process with participation of women and vulnerable groups.
7. The specific innovations which are applied to enhance cost-effectiveness and sustainability of managing riverbank erosion will include the following, which are also advocated and supported by the Ministry of Water Resources (MOWR) in the recent years: (i) Promotion of revetments as appropriate structural measures that can stabilize bank lines along the naturally developed alignments with little flow disruption, as compared to spurs that obstruct river flows and cause high maintenance requirements as well as erratic erosion in adjacent and opposite reaches. (ii) Use of alternative materials such as sand-filled geo-textile containers, which is increasingly seen as lower cost and sustainable technology in view of rapidly rising financial and environmental costs of quarrying boulders from forest areas. (iii) Development of short-term erosion prediction tool, which could reduce the mitigation cost through advance planning (as opposed to reactive response) of protection works, and advance warning and evacuation of vulnerable people. (iv) Application of a new and lower cost approach of coping with erosion with siltation inducement through flow retarding screens, which have been recently developed in Assam and proven effective up to certain flow conditions. This has a potential for further reducing the cost of riverbank erosion management when effectively combined with other structures such as revetments.