First drought, now the deluge. In the midst of the Thar desert, Barmer district of Rajasthan, the worst-hit, is struggling to cope with the flash floods in which 300 people are believed to have died. More than 1,000 people are marooned on sand dunes, surrounded by 15-25 ft of water.
Principal secretary (relief) Lalit K. Pawar on Sunday confirmed 77 deaths, on the basis number of bodies found. He, however, refused to confirm or deny reports that 300 to 500 people were missing since the floods on Monday night.
At village Jogaseria, navy divers were fishing out bodies from stagnant waters while at villages Khawas and Malwa, people complained that they did not have enough food or drinking water.
Anil Chhangani, a scientist with Jodhpur's Jai Narain Vyas University, said the unusual rainfall this year was a freak phenomenon not recorded in the past 200 years. Relief is trickling in. The army has launched a massive relief and rescue operation in the flood-affected districts of Barmer and Jaisalmer. More than 3,600 people have been evacuated and 76,000 food packets distributed in the two districts.
Barmer looks like a cluster of lakes. You see an expanse of water and then dry land for miles. At Kawas sub-division, villagers point to the roof of a railway station jutting out of the about 15 ft of water.
The second floor of a house is barely visible. “That is my brother Bhura Ram’s house,” says Bhanwar Lal, a villager, standing knee-deep in water. Bhura Ram and his family are on top of a dune, watching their house sloping into water. On the long stretches of road from Kawas to Barmer are bloated carcasses of animals.
The floods, described as one of the worst tragedies witnessed by the state in recent decades, were triggered by unusually heavy rains in Barmer and nearby areas since August 18.
Last year, Barmer received only 102 mm rainfall, making it yet another drought year. This year the 219 mm rainfall was received until August 15 but 577mm of rainfall was recorded between August 19 and 23.
Only a fortnight ago, drought relief work was going on in Barmer. Now the mud embankments for water harvesting are nowhere to be seen.