Flood Mitigation, Climate Change Adaptation and Technological Lock-In in Assam
Keywords:Flood damage, Assam, embankments, technological lock-in
Climate change adaptation requires communities and policymakers to be flexible in order to cope with high levels of uncertainty in climate projections, particularly of precipitation, flood magnitude and frequency, and changing human exposure and vulnerability to floods—which are even less predictable than the climate. Most of the world’s major rivers are embanked to “protect” communities from floods. Embankments—which represent a significant investment largely of public funds—are a manifestation of the professionalism of engineers and hydrologists. They are also the result of professional and political entrapment and a technological frame that grows in strength (probably non-linearly) by positive feedback to produce technological lock-in. This results in inertia in large socio-technological systems, with little incentive to adopt more adaptive and flexible solutions, including non-structural measures—such as land-use zoning—even in the face of evidence that structural measures do not always reduce damage and, in some cases, actually make it worse. Where embankment breaches are common, damage is likely to increase as climate change induces larger floods, and lock-in and path dependence increase risk. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the mitigation of floods through non-structural measures that complement embankments. The phenomena described in this paper are common in many countries.
Alley, K. D. 2004. “The Making of a River Linking Plan in India: Suppressed Science and Spheres of Expert Debate.” India Review 3 (3): 210–238. https://doi.org/10.1080/14736480490520386.
Asian Development Bank. 2010. Proposed Multitranche Financing Facility India: Assam Integrated Flood and Riverbank Erosion Risk Management Investment Program. Project Number: 38412, 80.
Assam Government. 1956. “A Note on the Damage Caused by the Floods in Assam During 1954–55 and Relief Measures Undertaken or Proposed.” Shillong: Assam Government Press.
Arthur, B. 1989. “Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-in by Historical Events.” The Economic Journal 99: 116–131. https://doi.org/10.2307/2234208.
Barendrecht, M. H., A. Viglioneand, and G. Blöschl. 2017. “A Dynamic Framework for Flood Risk.” Water Security 1: 3–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasec.2017.02.001.
Bijker, W. E. 2007. “Dikes and Dams, Thick with Politics.” FOCUS-ISIS 98: 109–123. https://doi.org/10.1086/512835.
Brown, R., R. Ashley, and M. Farrelly. 2011. “Political and Professional Agency Entrapment: An Agenda for Urban Water Research.” Water Resources Management 25: 4037–4050. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-011-9886-y.
Chakraborty, G. 2012. “The Char Dwellers of Assam. Flowing River, Floating People.” In Agony of Floods: Flood Induced Water Conflicts in India, edited by E. Prasad, K. J., Joy, S., Paranjape, and S. Vispute, 10–22. Pune: Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315168432-11.
Chief Secretary. 1909. “Proceedings of EB and Assam to Secretary, GOI, Revenue and Agriculture.” No. 1066R, Shillong 21 April, Proceedings of EB and Assam, Revenue Department, Revenue-A, May 1909 ASA.
Colven, E. 2017. “Understanding the Allure of Big Infrastructure: Jakarta’s Great Garuda Sea Wall Project.” Water Alternatives 10 (2): 250–264. http://www.water-alternatives.org.
Comptroller and Auditor General of India. 2017. “Schemes for Flood Control and Flood Forecasting.” Report no. 10. New Delhi: Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, Union Government.
David, P. 1985. “Clio and the Economics of QWERTY.” American Economic Review 75: 332–337. https://doi/org/10.1257/aer.101.1.1.
Doullah, S. M. 2003. “Immigration of East Bengal Farm Settlers and Agriculture Department of the Assam Valley. 1901–1947.” New Delhi: Institute of Objective Studies.
Dosi, G. 1982. “Technological Paradigms and Technological Trajectories: a Suggested Interpretation of the Determinants and Directions of Technical Change.” Research Policy 11: 147–162. https://doi.org/10.1016/0048-7333(82)90016-6.
D’Souza, R. 2006. Drowned and Dammed: Colonial Capitalism and Flood Control in Eastern India. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195682175.001.0001.
Government of India. 1972. “Report of the Irrigation Commission.” Volume 3, Part 1, Calcutta: Government of India.
Goswami, P. C. 1994. The Economic Development of Assam. Ludhiana: Kalyani Publishers.
Grübler, A. 1990. The Rise and Fall of Infrastructures: Dynamics and Technological Change in Transport. Heidelberg: Physica-Verlag.
Hart, S. G. 1906. “Report on the Land Revenue Settlement of the Sibsagar District [Microform]: During the Years 1902–1903 to 1905–1906.” Shillong: Eastern Bengal and Assam Secretariat Press
Hazarika, N., T. Tayeng, and A. K. Das. 2016. “Living in Troubled Waters: Stakeholders’ Perception, Susceptibility and Adaptations to Flooding in the Upper Brahmaputra Plain.” Natural Hazards 83: 1157–1176. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-016-2366-1.
Kingdon-Ward, F. 1950. “Aftermath of the Great Assam Earthquake of 1950.” The Geographical Review 121 (3): 290–303. https://doi.org/10.2307/1790893.
Islas, J. 1997. “Getting Round the Lock-in in electricity Generating Systems: The Example of the Gas Turbine.” Research Policy 26: 49–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0048-7333(96)00912-2.
Kaika, M. 2006. “Dams as Symbols of Modernization: The Urbanization of Nature between Geographical Imagination and Materiality.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96 (2): 276–301. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8306.2006.00478.x.
Kijek, A., and T. Kijek. 2010. “Modelling of Innovation Diffusion.” Operations Research and Decisions 3–4: 53–68.
Kline, D. 2001. “Positive Feedback, Lock-in, and Environmental Policy.” Policy Sciences 34: 95–107. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1010357309367.
Kumar, N. 2015. “Review of Innovation Diffusion Models.” CSIR-National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, New Delhi, Working Paper No. 1/2015-01: 54.
Kumar, P., A. Wiltshire, C. Mathison, S. Asharaf, B. Ahrens, P. Lucas-Picher, J. H. Christensen, A. Gobiet, F. Saeed, S. Hagemann, and D. Jacob. 2013. “Downscaled Climate Change Projections with Uncertainty Assessment over India Using a High-resolution Multi-model Approach.” Science of the Total Environment: 468–469: S18-S30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.01.051.
Lechmere-Oertel, F. O. 1918. “Notes on Floods in the Surma Valley, Assam, their Causes and Remedies.” Public Works Department, Shillong, 6 November 1917, Assam Secretariat Proceedings, Nos. 1–62, Revenue-A, June 1918, ASA.
Liebowitz, S. J., and S. E. Margolis. 1995. “Path Dependence, Lock-In, and History.” Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 205–226. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1706450.
Lines, S. 1930. “Report of the Flood Enquiry Committee, Assam.” Shillong: Government of Assam.
Loftus, A., and H. March. 2015. “Financializing Desalination: Rethinking the Returns of Big Infrastructure.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40 (1): 46-61.
Majumdar, S. C. 1948. “River Problems in Assam.” Central Board of Irrigation Journal 5 (1): 140–151. http://www.cbip.org/E%20Journals/international_Archive.aspx.
Majumdar, S. C. 1956. “Notes on the Damage Caused by Flood and Erosion in Assam During 1955–1956 and Relief Measures Undertaken or Proposed.” Shillong: Assam Government Press.
Mathison, C., A. Wiltshire, A. P. Dimri, P. Falloon, P. Kumar, E. Moors, J. Ridely, C. Siderius, M. Stoffel, and T. Yasunari. 2013. “Regional Projections of North Indian Climate for Adaptation Studies.” Science of the Total Environment 468–469: S4-S17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2012.04.066.
Meadows, D. 2008. Thinking in Systems. Chelsea Green. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2010.00314.x.
Merme, V., R. Ahlers, and J. Gupta. 2014. “Private Equity, Public Affair: Hydropower Financing in the Mekong Basin.” Global Environmental Change 243: 20–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.11.007.
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. 1949. Modern India, Series 6, Government of India.
Nelson, R. R., and S. G. Winter. 1977. “In Search of Useful Theory of Innovation.” Research Policy 6: 35–76. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-0348-5867-0_14.
Newell, B., and R. J. Wasson. 2002. “Social System vs Solar System: Why Policy Makers Need History.” In Conflict and Cooperation Related to International Water Resources: Historical Perspectives, edited by S. Castelein and A. Otte, 3–17. UNESCO Document SC 2002/WS/53 (Grenoble UNESCO). https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000128073.
Public Works Department, Assam. 1929–1930. “Administration Report.” 16.
Rao, K. Kesava. 2003. “Linking the Indian Rivers.” Current Science 85 (5): 565.
Ray, K. B. 1954. “Flood Prevention in the Rivers of Bihar, North Bengal and Assam.” The Economic Weekly, October 9.
Ray, K. B. 1956. “Dibrugarh Spurs.” The Economic Weekly, August 4.
RBA. 1980. “Report of the Rashtriya Barh Ayog (National Commission on Floods).” Volume 1. New Delhi: Ministry of Energy and Irrigation, Government of India.
Reddy, G. K. 1954. “China Expects No Flood or Famine Havoc After Two Years: Grim Fight Against Disasters.” The Times of India, October 15.
Rijke, J., S. Van Herk, C. Zvenbergen and R. Ashley. 2012. “Room for the River: Delivering Integrated River Basin Management in the Netherlands.” International Journal of River Basin Management 10 (4): 369–382. https://doi.org/10.1080/15715124.2012.739173.
Saikia, A. 2014. “Ecology, Flood and the Political Economy of Hydro-Power: The River Brahmaputra in the 20th Century.” Occasional Paper Series. New Delhi: NMML.
Saikia, A. 2015. “Jute in the Brahmaputra Valley: The Making of Flood Control in Twentieth-century Assam”. Modern Asian Studies 49 (5): 1405–1441. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0026749x14000201.
Saikia, A. 2019. The Unquiet River: A Biography of the Brahmaputra. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780199468119.001.0001.
Sain, K. 1954. “A Visit to River Valley Projects in China.” Delhi: Central Water and Power Commission.
Sharda, V. N., and P. R. Ojasvi. 2016. “A Revised Soil Erosion Budget for India: Role of Reservoir Sedimentation and Land-use Protection Measures.” Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 41: 2007–2023. https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.3965.
Shaw, G. R. 1935. “Report by Mr. G. Reid, Superintendent Engineer, Assam, on floods in the Nowgong District”. Shillong: Government of Assam.
Singh, V., N. Sharma, C. Shekhar, and P. Ojha. 2004. The Brahmaputra Basin Water Resources. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-0540-0.
Sneddon, C. 2015. Concrete Revolution: Large dams, Cold War Geopolitics, and the US Bureau of Reclamation. University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226284453.001.0001.
Spring, F. J. E. 1903. “River Training and Control.” Government of India Technical Paper No. 153.
Srinivasan, V., M. Sanderson, M. Garcia, M. Konar, G. Bloschl, and M. Sivapalan. 2017. “Prediction in a Socio-hydrological World.” Hydrological Sciences Journal 62 (3): 338–345. https://doi.org/10.1080/02626667.2016.1253844.
The Times of India. 1934. “Flood havoc in Assam: Official Statement.” Times of India, July 24.
The Times of India. 1954. “Relief for Assam Flood Victims.” August 16.
UN-Habitat. 2002. Mitigation, Management and Control of Floods in South Asia. Volume 2. Nairobi.
Unruh, G. C. 2000. “Understanding Carbon Lock In.” Energy Policy 28: 817–830. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0301-4215(00)00070-7.
Verghese, B. G. 1954. “400-mile Embankments to Control Brahmaputra: People May be Told to Help in Project.” The Times of India, August 27.
Wall Street Journal. 1934. “200 dead in Indian Floods.” June 29, 1934: 4. https://www.wsj.com/news/archive/20200402.
Western Argus. 1934. “Floods in India: Worst in Living Memory.” Western Argus, July 3. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/title/100.
The author(s) retain copyright on work published by INSEE unless specified otherwise.
Licensing and publishing rights
Author(s) of work published by INSEE are required to transfer non-exclusive publishing right to INSEE of the definitive work in any format, language and medium, for any lawful purpose.
Authors who publish in Ecology, Economy and Society will release their articles under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license. This license allows anyone to copy and distribute the article for non-commercial purposes provided that appropriate attribution is given.
For details of the rights that the authors grant users of their work, see the "human-readable summary" of the license, with a link to the full license. (Note that "you" refers to a user, not an author, in the summary.)
The authors retain the non-exclusive right to do anything they wish with the published article(s), provided attribution is given to the Ecology, Economy and Society—the INSEE Journal with details of the original publication, as set out in the official citation of the article published in the journal. The retained right specifically includes the right to post the article on the authors’ or their institution’s websites or in institutional repositories.
In case of re-publishing a previously published work, author may note that earlier publication may have taken place a license different from Creative Commons. In all such cases of re-publishing, we advise the authors to consult the applicable licence at article level.