Reimagining a Violent Landscape: Disaster, Development and Cartographic Imagination in the Brahmaputra River Valley
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, the world’s largest river island, is experiencing both erosion and creation of ‘new’ lands along its borders due to high sediment deposition. 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 to 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 suggest that policymakers’ static understanding of land shapes flooding patterns and migration regimes. Members of informal settlements at high risk of displacement adapt to the lack of government assistance by altering adaptation and migration strategies, but are largely constrained to repeated informal resettlement on un-surveyed land. More effective and flexible surveying practices, in combination with expanded disaster relief, are essential to minimize displacement and work towards a new understanding of geomorphology, land tenure, and disaster management as dynamic, intertwined processes.
Brahmaputra River Valley