World's largest river island washing away under flood waters

A A A

It may be the largest river island in the world but it is steadily shrinking – eroded by the Brahmaputra river in which it is situated. Efforts to preserve the island and halt the erosion, caused by the glacial flood waters of the Himalayas, have been unco-ordinated and – say critics – ineffective.

Now the authorities are staking their hopes that having the island of Majuli listed as a World Heritage Site can bring about the focus and the funds needed to help save the culturally rich island.

"If it is listed as a World Heritage Site, there will be a co-ordinated management plan. The state and federal authorities will be obliged to prevent the erosion," said Diganta Gogoi, project director with the Majuli Island Protection and Development Council.

This week, the Indian government submitted an application to Unesco, requesting that Majuli, in the north-eastern state of Assam, be listed for special status under the "cultural landscape" category. The UN body has in turn asked the Indian authorities to provide them with a risk-preparedness strategy, outlining how it planned to save the island.

The island – formed by a change of course by the Brahmaputra – has a long and rich history and is considered a centre of Vaishnavite Hindu culture, whose followers worship the god Vishnu. The island is home to more than 30 satras or monasteries, many of which house irreplaceable collections of writings, antiques and masks.

But the island is fast disappearing. In 1950 it was around 1,256 sq km but by 1990 it had shrunk to about half that size. Since 1990 up to 35 villages have been washed away and some reports suggest the island could disappear within as little as 20 years.

"The erosion problem is everywhere," said K N Dikshit, general secretary of the Delhi-based Indian Archaeological Society. "There are many historical artefacts and paintings. If the island is not preserved it will all disappear."

Majuli's people are also suffering as the land slowly disappears. Worst affected are those who try to eke out a livelihood on the edge of the river. Most of these people belong to the Mishing clan and, as their land and villages have disappeared, so they have been transformed from farmers into labourers. Reports from Majuli say that many of these communities are living in dire conditions.

"The main problem is that the Brahmaputra is a massive river. During the high flood season the discharge of water is enormous," said S Jagannatana, secretary to Assam's governor, Lt-Gen Ajay Singh. "The soil on the edge of the island is very loose – it's all alluvial silt."

The central government has set aside around £10m to fund measures to try to prevent the erosion. These have included concrete barriers placed in the river to try to divert the water and measures to strengthen the embankments of the island.

But local people say these steps have made little difference and that the land from which they try to survive continues to disappear, sometimes requiring them to move overnight. Their lives have become a constant struggle to find a piece of land that seems stable – at least for a while.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?