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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Assam grapples with flood aftermath

Since the second week of July, large tracts of northern and north eastern India, besides Nepal and Bangladesh were lashed with heavy rains, and flooding.

india Updated: Aug 13, 2019 03:03 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times, Mayong
Students have put out their books to dry.
Students have put out their books to dry. (Utpal Parashar/HT photo)
         

Floods are an integral part of Ekadashi Das’s life. For as long as she can remember, the 50-year-old resident of No.2 Murkata village in central Assam’s Marigaon district has had to move out of her home almost every year and take shelter for few weeks on higher ground to escape flood waters from the Brahmaputra river.

This year was no different. But Das, who works as a domestic help in her village, had a new problem to deal with besides protecting herself and her belongings. Her daughter, Sewali Mandal, 25, gave birth to a girl last week amid the devastation caused by the floods.

“The flood waters damaged my house. My husband is unwell and my daughter, whose husband died a few months ago, has a newborn to deal with. I need the sarkar (government) to help me cope with all of this and find a solution to the perennial problem.”

Like her, 32 of the 235 families from the same village (figures as per the 2011 census), which falls in Mayong circle, had already spent a fortnight in makeshift dwellings made with bamboo, wood, tarpaulin sheets etc. on the state highway number 3 connecting Guwahati to the district headquarter of Marigaon and Nagaon, the neighbouring district, when HT visited them earlier this month.

Since the second week of July, large tracts of northern and north eastern India, besides Nepal and Bangladesh were lashed with heavy rains, and flooding. By the end of July, flood-related deaths in Assam and Bihar— the two worst affected states in the country — stood at 209. At one point, 31 of Assam’s 33 districts were submerged, and at least 225,000 people were staying in over 1000 relief camps. The first wave of floods occurred in June, inundated parts of five districts and affected around 10,000 people. The second wave, which began in July, affected more than 5.25 million people. At least 91 people were reported to have lost their lives this year — more than in 2017, when the Brahmaputra and its tributaries that weave through the state, were in spate, and 80 people died.

As in previous years, Marigaon district was one of the worst affected.

“152 of the 177 villages in Mayong circle [Das’ village is located here] were affected by floods. Despite the decrease in water levels, over 3,300 people in 40 villages are still affected. Flood waters claimed 14 lives in our circle,” said circle officer, Sanghamitra Baruah.

Over 2.12 lakh hectares of cropland around the state were submerged this year, and 220 animals died in the Kaziranga National Park.

According to state disaster management authority, as on August 9, parts of Chirang, Marigaon and Jorhat districts are still flooded, with nearly 1,300 people affected. The Brahmaputra continues to flow above the danger mark at Nematighat in Jorhat, and across the state, 560 people are still staying in two relief camps located in Chirang district.

Rituraj Bora, deputy commissioner of Marigaon, told HT that evaluation of the damage caused to houses and other public buildings will “begin soon” — compensation, repair and rebuilding is still some time away.

Equally vital for the government now is to monitor the health of the affected people, conduct medical camps, and ensure proper drinking water facilities as well veterinary services to help livestock. Medical camps were conducted across most flood-affected districts and new tube wells were installed to ensure proper drinking water to tackle diarrhoea, a common flood-related ailment. “We started conducting around 20 medical camps on an average daily since July 15 and nearly 400 such camps were organised across Marigaon district during the floods,” said Dr. Rohini Kumar Borkotoky, joint director of health services, Marigaon. The camps treated common medical ailments like fever, cough and cold and diarrhoea.

Even the children haven’t returned to school yet.

A few kilometres down the state highway where Das is camped, lies No. 2 Khula Bhuyan lower primary school. Its principal, Sachin Chandra Deka, too, is trying to cope with the aftermath of the floods. The school opened on August 1 after its summer break, but less than a dozen of the total 263 students are present and classes have not yet resumed.

The school was inundated by nearly six feet of water for two days last month after an embankment breach in Laharighat circle. The water has since receded, but the classrooms are still full of mud, and the textbooks and copies are yet to dry.

“Floods take place every year, but this year the water levels were very high. The last time such flooding took place was in 2004. We are busy cleaning and repairing the damages. Classes are likely to resume after Eid on August 12,” said Deka standing outside his office.

Repair work of the three embankments in the district breached during this floods and another which is in a “severe condition” will have to wait longer till the monsoon season is over.

Nearly 35 km away at Nellie Bazaar, the last relief camp of the district ceased to exist on paper since Tuesday, but nearly 200 displaced residents of four nearby villages still continue to live there as they have been doing for the past three weeks.

“Many houses are still under water, so we will stay here for another few days before going back. Drinking water is a big issue in our village. Flood waters sunk the existing tube wells and the water is very smelly and undrinkable now,” said Md. Hazrat Ali, a fish trader from Bukdubahabi.

First Published: Aug 13, 2019 00:04 IST

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