The Braided River as Borderscape: Land Tenure and Disaster Relief in the Brahmaputra River Valley

Authors: Kevin Inks*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Migration, Development
Keywords: Informal settlement, erosion, India, displacement
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The physical geography of India's Brahmaputra River, one of the world's largest braided rivers, is characterized by constant shift. Communities along the river experience frequent and intense flooding, and displacement due erosion and flood damage is common. Majuli, at once a political district and a river island, is experiencing both erosion and creation of ‘new’ lands along its borders due to high sediment load. Having not been surveyed in nearly fifty years, 'new' lands formed from sediment deposition in Majuli are untitled and government-owned, and communities settled on these lands are not entitled resettlement assistance. The adaptation and migration strategies adopted by residents of these informal settlements are poorly understood. Semi-structured interviews and comprehensive surveys focused on perceptions of risk, efficacy of disaster relief, and migration strategies were conducted with households identified as being ‘at-risk’ of catastrophic flooding and erosion in Majuli District, Assam. Interviews with policymakers, government workers, and religious leaders were conducted to assess disaster relief efforts in informal settlements. The results show that members of informal settlements at high risk of displacement adapt to the lack of government assistance by altering adaptation and migration strategies. Policymakers’ static understanding of land, as well as development projects across political boundaries, shape flooding patterns and migration regimes. More effective and flexible surveying practices, in combination with expanded disaster relief, are essential to minimize displacement from informal settlements and work towards a new understanding of geomorphology and social boundaries as dynamic, intertwined processes.

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