From Vulnerability to Resilience Building of Community Living in the Floodplain of Brahmaputra Basin


The Context

The eastern part of the Brahmaputra basin represents a severe floodplain area in the state of Assam. The southern valley is highly prone to water-induced hazards such as floods, flash floods, river bank erosion and land degradation. The districts of Jorhat, Golaghat and Majuli island of Upper Assam represents many severe flood-prone areas where the Brahmaputra river and its tributary rivers are comparatively high and have deep channels right from the upper hills of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Due to cloudburst and dynamic rainfall in the catchment area, the river gets charged with enormous amounts of silt which alters the flow and sometime changes the river courses causing untold miseries to the people living in the downstream riverine areas. Flooding and river bank erosion affect all aspects of the land, lives, and livelihoods of the communities living in the region to a significant degree, rendering them homeless and displaced, destroying crops, damaging public property, and worsening development infrastructure. Moreover, annual cycles of flooding cripple people’s resilience and intensify the poverty spiral. The floodplain pockets are the most backward, poorest and almost entirely isolated and inhabited by different people groups including the Assamese, Mising, Fisherman community etc.

The CBDRM Intervention

The Brahmaputra River Basin Resilience Building Programme is a community-based preparedness approach to disaster risk reduction in the floodplain of Jorhat, Golaghat and Majuli districts of Assam. This grassroots development initiative was started by NEADS with support from Oxfam India in 2011 with the aim of preparing communities to meet flood emergencies and mobilising village community institutions at the micro level for long term disaster mitigation.  At present 30 villages are being covered under the programme under three development blocks.

The Core Areas of Intervention

  • Institution Building & Disaster Preparedness: The selected communities live in remote disaster prone areas. They are deprived of adequate awareness, skills and various basic facilities, which make them more vulnerable to disasters. Therefore, a collective movement at the community level needs to be started to reduce their vulnerabilities through enhancing their joint participation and capacity. The Duryug Bebosthapana Samiti (Village Disaster Management Committee) could take this role. VDMCs, with support of other sub committees and task forces, is considered as a leading community-based institution that will provide leadership and is primarily responsible for disaster management in their respective villages through community participation, village level funds/other resources as well as leveraging funds from ongoing government schemes/programmes related to development. VDMCs are the driving force of the community, trying to mobilize the community, enhance capacity and knowledge of people, collect and disseminate up to date information and correctly point out the risks/problems, and finding out the possible mitigation measures of the community and initiating action.
  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): The main objective of WASH programmes is to reduce the transmission of water-borne diseases and exposure to disease-bearing vectors through the promotion of good hygiene practices, the provision of safe drinking water, the reduction of environmental health risks, the conditions that allow people to live with good health, dignity, comfort and security. Simply providing sufficient water and sanitation facilities will not, on its own, ensure their optimal use or impact on public health. In order to achieve the maximum benefit from a response, it is imperative that disaster-affected people have the necessary information, knowledge and understanding to prevent water- and sanitation-related diseases and to mobilise their involvement in the design and maintenance of those facilities.
  • Vulnerable & Resilient Livelihood: Disasters and food insecurity are directly interconnected. Floods destroy agricultural and livestock assets, inputs and production capacity. They interrupt market access, trade and food supply, reduce income, deplete savings and erode livelihoods. Disasters create poverty traps that increase the prevalence of food insecurity and malnutrition. The programme seeks to improve food security and support livelihoods of target communities by providing productive assets for livelihoods and building resilience even when they are disrupted by disasters.
  • Advocacy, Mainstreaming & Convergence with Government: To create a scope and opportunity for responsive line departments in the Gaon Panchayat, Block & District level to mainstream disaster risk reduction in governance processes that enable the systematic integration of DRR concerns into all relevant development schemes.

The key activities undertaken include:

  • Community Based Disaster Preparedness
    • Promoting village-wide ‘Duryug Bebosthapana Samiti’ – (A grassroot institutional mechanism for preparing community to meet emergencies and mobilizing them for risk reduction).
    • Participatory, Vulnerability, Capacity, Assessment (PVCA) and Development planning at micro level (Emphasis is to mainstream disaster risk reduction into development planning).
    • Risk mapping and safety planning in the village.
    • Established Community Resource Centre for education, information and awareness on DRR.
    • Organized emergency mock drill trainings and exercises for risk reduction.
    • Establish Raised Granary for safe storage of food grain in the community.
    • Emergency country boat & emergency equipments support.
  • Risk Management by Accessing Safe Water, Sanitation and Proper Hygiene Education
    • Installation of flood – resistant hand pumps and sanitation structures.
    • Hand pump toolkit and training support for village level mechanics including WASH Committees.
    • Imparting training on water chlorination. Facilitation support of hand pump chlorination drive after flood.
    • Support of small water treatment units in the riverine community for accessibility of clean water.
    • Community awareness raising events on WASH & Public Health Promotion.
    • Children centered Public Health Promotion (PHP).
    • Sensitisation programme on children risks and safety in school.
  • Disaster Risk Reduction through Livelihood Concerns
    • Support to farmers including women for restoration of livelihoods through promotion of Early Harvesting Crop (stress tolerant), System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Kitchen Garden and Livestock.
    • Post flood agricultural support to young farmers club.
    • Promoting weaving as a rural initiative for economy generation by the women collective.
    • Farmers’ capacity building on sustainable agriculture, organic farming, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), livestock management, integrated farming practices and livelihood improvement.
  • Mainstreaming, Convergence & Advocacy
    • Building linkages to government line departments for tapping resources under the development schemes.
    • Submission of village-wide comprehensive DRR plans to Panchayati Raj Institution through special Gramsabha. Emphasis has been given to disaster perspective development plans at PRI level policy.
    • Block level and district level advocacy through ‘Village Disaster Management Committees’ with Line Departments to access services and to mainstream DRR.
    • DRR capacity-building events for PRI, Block & Departmental functionaries, and frontline workers including ASHA, AWW, VLEW, PARA-VET etc.
    • Effort was on convergence of programmes to build capacities of affected people.

Funding Agency

Oxfam India

The Key Stakeholder Involved

  • Village level: Women, children, adolescent girls, elderly, youth, farmers, community.
  • Block level: Aanganwadi Workers, ANM, ASHA, health professionals, school teachers, parents from School Management Committees, community-based organisations, representatives from the community.
  • District level: District Disaster Management Authority, Deputy Commissioner, Agriculture Department, Public Health Engineering Department, Veterinary Department, Water Resource Department, NGOs/CSOs, Block Development Office.

Project Duration – 2011-2017


The following steps have been adopted to build community ownership in the CBDRM: • Community Mobilisation – Engage partner communities to orient them to the programme’s objectives and bring them to the point of readiness for full participation in the project. • Participatory Planning –Use ‘bottom up’ planning techniques such as PRA, to allow communities to formulate their own risk reduction and village preparedness Community Action Plans. • Community Institution Building – Develop community capacity to manage the implementation of its DRR plan, with special focus on disaster preparedness. • Participatory Monitoring and Review – Assist communities to evaluate their own performance, analyse their strengths and weaknesses and take remedial action. • Institutionalizing the flood affected communities into flood mitigating institutions at the grassroots level. • Promotion of emergency Task Force Teams such as Search & Rescue, First Aid, WASH, Early Warning and Camp Management taken up as a model to institutionalize the communities. • Capacity building of the communities on various disaster risk management techniques including search and rescue, WASH, early warning, first aid, emergency assessment, hazard & vulnerability mapping etc. Organising awareness campaigns and promoting community education on disaster preparedness. • Mainstreaming DRR into Village Development Plans. Village plans can be developed by practicing Participatory Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment and PRA. • Awareness raising and education through IEC materials development. • PRI can play a crucial role in mobilizing people in various situations of crisis. The impact of disasters on people living in vulnerable areas and losses to their property can be minimized by a proactive role played by PRIs at the grassroots level. Apart from great organizing skills, it may call for courage and leading from the front. The PRI members can play a role of leadership in disaster management at all stages. Right from the preparatory stage up to the handling of the long term development activities for risk reduction, PRI can lead in several ways. The indigenous communities living in the riverine areas have developed good practices over time that have become ingrained in their lifestyles and these help them to cope with and adapt to the immediate and long-term impacts of water-induced hazard such as floods. These traditional flood coping mechanisms have been evolved from their culture, social customs, beliefs, indigenous knowledge systems and skills that have enabled them to survive water stresses and cope with hazards and disasters like flooding over the long term in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra basin. People with diverse backgrounds of tribes, castes, creed, race and religion live in the state. Recurrent floods devastate those people who are much exposed to the flood hazard, putting their lives as well as livelihood at a great risk. In this grim situation, communities should be well equipped and get ready with their inbuilt own coping practices to mitigate the miseries as they are the first responder during the crisis.
The targeted groups of people are women and children, people with disabilities, elderly people, people living along the river bank and victims of river bank erosion who are displaced, who are most vulnerable and marginalized risk during crises.


The following are a few achievements accomplished out of the DRR programme (from 2011-2017): • Changes emerged in the awareness level of the affected community over disaster preparedness and perspectives. • Reduction of community morbidity rate occurred out of water-borne diseases during and post flood situations. • Building a chain of volunteers on water chlorination, hand pump mechanics, and installation of bio-sand filters to act during emergencies. • Community’s capacity enhanced on improvised livelihood practices in both farming and non farming. • Adaptation practice started especially for early harvesting crops i.e. Bodo paddy is a good adaptation of disaster risk reduction (DRR). • Women actions are organized for economic empowerment including upgrading weaving, livestock rearing and kitchen garden with market accessibility. • Institutionalizing disaster affected communities as a Village Disaster Management Committee for responding to any kind of hazard. • Developing a chain of community volunteers for emergency disaster responses works including search and rescue, first aid, early warning and WASH. TFT teams (comprising of 10 volunteers) from Golaghat area recognized by the district administration. • Community-based institutions in flood ravaged areas of the Brahmaputra valley built linkages with local governance and line departments to mainstream DRR into micro development plans and activities. This practice can be strategized as an effective disaster mitigation strategy for advocacy and lobbying in the community and a tool of policy level change at the local governance level. • Based on the flood experience from 2011 to 2017, it was observed that communities are better aware about the disaster preparedness issues particularly with flood focus; they know the need and importance of disaster preparedness and means to achieve it. • Community Sensitization over the ongoing DRR interventions, mobilization and building awareness among the masses on community-based management and initiation of disaster perspective development plan at the villages. • Accessing of government sponsored development schemes including agriculture, veterinary and MNREGA through the networking and lobbying of communit-based organisations promoted by NEADS in respect to the response of disasters. • Communities started adopting the measures and the mechanism put up under DRR programme with reference to water, sanitation and hygiene, fast growing crops/paddy cultivation and disaster preparedness exercises to early response and recovery.
Capacity Building of Duryug Bebosthapana Samiti (Village Disaster Management Committee): In the year 2011, North-East Affected Area Development Society (NEADS) initiated the process to organize the flood affected local communities into institutions under its disaster risk reduction (DRR) initiative. In order to sustain the implementation of flood risk mitigation initiatives at the grassroots level, NEADS took an effort to build operational and management skills of its promoted Duryug Bebosthapana Samiti (Village Disaster Management Committee). The members of 30 VDMCs from 30 villages were trained on various preparedness measures of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), ensuring food security, shelter and livestock before, during and after a flood. The members were also capacitated and trained on some of the important areas like dissemination of warnings, evacuation of people during emergency, storage of food, first aid to the injured, search and rescue. Community-based Disaster Preparedness and Development Planning: Through exercising of Participatory Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment in the targeted villages by involving the people, a comprehensive village-wide plan document was developed in 30 project targeted villages of the Jhanjimukh, Majuli and Mahuramukh areas of the Jorhat and Golaghat districts. NEADS undertook PRA techniques including the social and resource mapping, historical timeline, seasonal calendar, venn diagram, problem ranking matrix and resource mobilization etc. with a main focus on risk management to identify the vulnerability as well as the capacity of the affected community. After analysis of all gathered data and focus group discussions with the community, a village level micro plan was prepared which was taken up as a Community Action Plan throughout the project intervention period. Established Community Resource Centre for Education, Information and Awareness: In order to build a DRR perspective institution in the village, a Community Resource Centre was developed in the Sumonichapori village of the Jhanjimukh area. The centre is like a resource hub which imparts education on disaster preparedness and risk reduction to various community members including women and children. The CRC is active in creating as well as sustaining community awareness on disaster preparedness, establishing liaison with Gaon Panchayat, local departments before, during and after flood situations. Organized Emergency Mock Drill Training and Exercise for Risk Reduction: The objectives were to build public awareness on importance of disaster risk reduction programmes in building a disaster resilient society as well as its integration with the local development plan and policies. In the programme, a disaster mock drill programme was conducted with regard to water hazards in collaboration with Jorhat District Civil Defence. The participants included students, members of DRR committees, women, youth and the elderly. The programme cum mock drill exercise was an eye opening event for many as they have gained innovative techniques which can help to cope with massive flood situation. A total of 250 people including men, women, children, youth and the elderly experienced the importance of the mock drill in the flood affected area. Resilience of Women: Women play an active role in all aspects of disaster risk management and resilience-building but these roles are mostly invisible, rarely acknowledged and not included into social systems. NEADS disaster risk management and resilience building initiative was inclusive of women at all levels. Key Features of the Women Participation in the Project • The ‘Duryug Bebosthapana Samiti’ (Village Disaster Management Committee) will consist of 21 members with 50% female participation (mandatory). The gender membership ratio is 50% male and 50% female. The members are influential members. • Women members are part of WASH, Early Warning, Search & Rescue and First Aid task forces. • Women are seen having strong interest and commitment to serving people and are socially accepted. • Women have knowledge of disaster preparedness and leadership skills. •There is a positive attitude towards people with disabilities. • Women have time to work voluntarily in the village. Impact on Children: This is crucial as children are most vulnerable during any disaster and are deprived of their fundamental rights – right to education and protection. Most often, the schools are used as shelters during the floods, which disrupts the normal education and exposes children to potentially higher risks of trafficking, child labour, etc. We have worked with strategies such as awareness-raising, capacity building, group formation, institutional development and influencing and working with children on DRR. Some Results of NEADS CCDRR Initiative - Children are more aware about the disaster preparedness issues particularly with regards to flooding; they know the need and importance of disaster preparedness and means for the same. - Children are more aware of the responsibilities/tasks which their families should carry out before, during and post disaster to reduce the risks and suffering. - Children’s knowledge of risks and DRR skills has increased. - Children are taking action to reduce risks in their communities and their schools. - Children have greater capacity to contribute to disaster response. - Communities are better prepared for natural hazards. Person with Disability: The PWD community are able to avail government sponsored schemes and services that are made for them.