Mahabahu: Response, Resilience and Dialogue for Co-existence

In the North-East Indian State of Assam (India), floods displace close to five million people annually and is the largest continuing humanitarian crisis in the region. While flooding is a natural phenomenon of Brahmaputra and its tributaries, in the last ten years, both incidence and intensity have exacerbated owing to climate change and human induced activities. In addition, the rainfall timelines have altered making it challenging to predict it. 

The impact of floods is disproportionate as it affects health, livelihoods, disrupts access to essential services, including education among the flood-affected communities. In such a scenario, it is important to build resilience among the communities directly impacted by floods. The discourse on flood and its impact have been extensively explored and studied. However, knowledge on flood, mitigation strategies remain in silos. There is a need to integrate the knowledge and build a bottom-up approach by bringing forth community's own knowledge and assimilate it with the knowledge emerged through practice and research. This knowledge then serves as the stimulus to build skills and knowledge of communities and inform the administration and grassroots organisations for collectively working on building resilience.

Project Mahabahu, initiated by Global Shapers Guwahati Hub began with a flood relief in two districts of Assam during the months of July-August 2020 in partnership with Samanway Foundation. The experience prompted the Hub to work further with communities to reduce the multiple vulnerabilities brought by floods. The Mahabahu project focuses on SDGs 13 (Climate action) and SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities)

Problem Statement: The Flood-affected communities in Brahmaputra Valley of Assam have to be better prepared and made more resilient to reduce the ravages caused by annual flooding. 

Proposed Solutions: 

1) Improving flood preparedness in the community

2) Creating a rapid relief response to support affected communities

3) Building dialogue and advocacy for flood resilience

In October 2020, the Hub conducted a Focused Group Discussion (FGD) to engage with affected communities and understand the ground realities of the communities, the myriad challenges and needs.

Subsequently, team Mahabahu went to design and conduct a series of dialogues bringing in multiple stakeholders and exploring the many facets of floods that affect Assam. Over 17 panelists, comprising of community members, researchers, development professionals and former bureaucrats participated in the Mahabahu dialogues spanning across the following themes:

1. Understanding the Brahmaputra and its Ecosystem

2. Factors that Underlie Flooding in the Brahmaputra and Allied Water Systems

3. Vulnerabilities and Impacts of the Flood

4. Learning from precedents and designing flood preparedness collaterals

The dialogues provided brilliant insights on working with the communities.

Following are the KPI's of the project (August 2020-April 2021):

1. With the support of Samanway Foundation, we conducted 4 flood relief drives across 11 villages, providing assistance to 2050 families during August-October 2020

2. Conducted 2 Focused Group Discussions (FGD) with total 23 community members in October 2020

3. Hosted 4 multi-stakeholder dialogues with 17 panelists between October 2020- February 2021

4. Curated 2 podcasts in Guwahati Weekly 

The next steps in the Project are:

1. Disseminating best practices/solutions brought out from the dialogues through a dedicated workshop/Labs involving community members and local NGO's

2. Conducting workshops with school students around the theme of Climate Change and its impact on flooding in Brahmaputra valley (Assam)