Siang river devastation to villages of Mebo

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

The rampaging Siang river is devastating large areas of prime, fertile land in the left bank areas of Mebo subdivision in East Siang district. About 10,000 hectares of agricultural fields, plantations, forests and community burial grounds have been washed away. In fact the region is known as a rice bowl and is renowned for organic vegetables. The lifeline Mebo-Dhola road used by the villagers of East Siang and LDV districts and nearby Assam has been washed away at two locations. Schools, forest buildings and playgrounds have been washed away. Many villagers have shifted houses to better locations and a few villages are preparing to shift to other locations.

It seems that the continuing contamination of the Siang river originating in Tibet for the past 2-3 years has led to a rise in the riverbed by several feet, leading to the river spreading sideways and causing massive soil erosion. The most probable reason for this rise of the riverbed is the prolonged deposits of cement/oil mix caused by massive construction activities along the Tibetan side of the river. It is reported that China is constructing a massive 1000 kms long tunnel in the Namcha Barwa mountains to divert the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra to Xinjiang province in northwest China.

Massive damages in the area have occurred despite the construction of a massive tie-bund at Sigar village with the recently sanctioned fund of Rs 35 crore. The newly constructed tie-bund was breached just a few days after completion. This breach in the tie-bund led to massive damages to the very villages it was supposed to protect.

Without alternatives, the villagers of the area and the SEEANG Foundation mobilized the local villagers to carry out flood protection measures with local resources. Many bamboo/wood porcupines and bunds/spurs made of stones/netting/sand bags were constructed on a self-help basis at key sites. Entire villages were involved, including men and women. Affected villages are continuing constructing local protection measures day and night, including holidays. In fact, the villagers worked even on Independence Day to protect their villages and agricultural fields.

However, crash measures by villagers working with local resources can provide temporary protection only and cannot withstand the strong currents of the Siang river for long periods. The need of the hour is a bigger project for a lasting solution to this perennial problem of flood erosion. If something concrete is not done this winter, a great human tragedy may be looming, wherein there might be a need to relocate entire villages.

A few big projects were sanctioned by the government towards protection from the Siang river erosion, including the Rs 35 crore recently sanctioned. However, poor project consultancy and implementation has led to failure of the project, endangering the lives and livelihoods of thousands of villagers. Proper construction and implementation could have protected all the affected villages and their precious lands.

The villagers of Mebo subdivision are praying for the government to find a lasting solution to this unfolding human tragedy. Come on, ‘Team Arunachal’.  Arunachal should be rising!(The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)