In India, a River Is Dissolving an Island

Brahmaputra's rising waters eroding one of world's largest inland islands

By Michael Franco,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 20, 2013 8:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – In Assam, India, an island is dissolving like a cube of sugar in a cup of the tea for which the region is famous, and a river is to blame. The New York Times reports on the fate of Majuli, one of the world’s largest "inland islands," which is surrounded by the Brahmaputra River. Climate change is fueling destructive changes, among them more devastating flooding, but the river itself bears much of the blame: Its unique braided shape creates a natural instability, according to some scientists. It also sits in an earthquake-prone area, and was rocked by a massive 1950 quake that rerouted some channels such that they now batter Majuli. Says one resident who lost a stand of banana trees to the rising water this month: "We are afraid. We see it in front of our eyes. Ten years ago, this land stretched out another two kilometers."

According to one study, that's likely true: It found the island, which is home to 170,000 people, shrunk from 290 square miles in 1917 to 163 square miles in 2001. Once home to 64 monasteries, only 36 remain. Officials have responded to the destruction by building embankments, but a local environmental expert says that might not be enough. "We need a more holistic and integrated approach," he says. Further downstream, scientists worry that the river could displace millions of people in Bangladesh within the next few decades. Indian Express last month reported that 82% of the nearly 3,000 miles of embankments and dykes that line Brahmaputra and its tributaries in Assam are currently beyond their recommended lifespan.

Mishing women work in a paddy field at Jengraimukh in Majuli, a 163 square-mile island, about 220 miles east of Gauhati, India.
Mishing women work in a paddy field at Jengraimukh in Majuli, a 163 square-mile island, about 220 miles east of Gauhati, India.   (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
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