Brahmaputra River and Famed Island Undergoing Rapid Change
Date 2013/5/11 18:19:06 | Topic: Hindu Press International
MAJULI, INDIA, April 14, 2013 (New York Times): Not too long ago, Ganesh Hazarika grew rice, vegetables and peas near the edge of the Brahmaputra River on a small plot that provided him a livelihood and a safety net. Then one day the river took it away. Steadily and mercilessly, it had chewed at the banks until his tiny farm fell into the water.
Landlessness is a rising problem for farmers across India, but Mr. Hazarika's situation is unusual: his plot was located on Majuli, one of the world's largest "inland" islands, an ancient religious center that is home to about 170,000 people and dozens of monasteries. The same river that has encircled the island and sustained it for centuries is now methodically tearing it apart.
For many environmentalists and scientists, the Brahmaputra is a critical laboratory in studying the impact of climate change, with much of the attention focused on the mouth of the river in Bangladesh, where rising waters are expected to radically reorient one of the world's most important estuaries and potentially displace millions of people in the coming decades.
But many miles upstream, the Brahmaputra is also proving difficult to predict or constrain. Seasonal flooding, always a problem, has intensified in recent years in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. Erosion is a concern across Assam, as the huge river regularly shifts course while carrying sand and other sediment from the Himalayas in a simultaneous process of construction and destruction: new sandbars appear even as old, inhabited places are battered by the currents of the river.
Climate change is contributing to these upstream changes, some scientists say, though the Brahmaputra is naturally unstable because of seismic activity and the river's braided shape. The erosion of Majuli has become the most drastic example of the river's ruthless power, and local officials, trying to protect the monasteries and the island's growing population, have responded by building embankments and other protective measures.
Since the 15th century, Majuli has been a center of Vaishnavism, a monotheistic branch of Hinduism centered on the God Vishnu and His avatar Krishna. Today, there are 36 monasteries, known as satras, yet erosion has forced several of them to relocate within the island. Another 28 monasteries have been moved off the island altogether.
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