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.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star