Rain-hit Bihar villagers stare at a bleak future
Chalidhar Sadai, 51, squatted on the muddy embankment of Kamla river, as his four grandchildren slept on a tarpaulin sheet distributed by philanthropists from Mumbai the previous day. Though he has lost his house in the floods that have ravaged the state — and other northern and northeastern parts of the country — over the past few weeks, Sadai’s biggest worry right now is snakes.
“Early this morning, we killed two snakes that came very close to our children, who were sleeping,” said Bandhan Sadai, a neighbour, whose family is one among hundreds camping on the embankment for nearly a fortnight. The men and children have been sleeping out in the open, alongside their cattle, goats and sheep, while the women have been sleeping in makeshift tents.
Heavy rainfall in Nepal this month, followed by heavy rainfall in several catchment areas of rivers in Bihar — including the Kamla which flows through Madhubani district — resulted in heavy flooding that has affected 12 of the state’s 30 districts, and led to 123 deaths. Over 8.1 million people have been displaced.
Tragedy struck the Sadais in the wee hours of July 14, forcing hundreds like them, from Gopalkhan, Mehat, Bhalli Mehat and at least a dozen other adjoining villages to flee.
Sadai’s family managed to escape just in time. “Our house was right on the foot of the embankment. Minutes before cracks appeared and a portion of the embankment caved in, we ran to safety. We saw our homes falling like pins and getting washed away in the current,” he said.
According to the state water resources department officials, this was the worst flood to hit Madhubani in 32 years as the flood water rose to 54.5 m. In 1987, the level had risen to 50.36 m.
Locals said that the sluice gates on the western embankment of Kamla got damaged in flash floods on July 13. “The flood eventually breached the embankment in three different places in Jhanjharpur, the worst being at Gopalkhan where a vast patch got washed away and submerged our villages,” said Pravin Kumar Jha, a resident of Mehat village.
“We rescued around 700 people from Gopalkhan and 600 from Narwar,” said National Disaster Response Force inspector Rajeev Ranjan. Though the floodwater has begun to recede, the deluge has left behind a trail of devastation — uprooted trees, and crumbled homes. Parts of Gopalkhan are still submerged in the deluge.
“The flood has left behind 40-45 feet deep craters on the land where once our homes existed. Where shall we go now?” asked Bidesi Mukhiya (55). “The government is yet to rehabilitate us.”
The state has set up 199 relief camps set up where currently 116,653 people are taking shelter. According to officials, 79,000 flood affected families have received ₹6,000 each in Madhubani alone. However, none of the families HT spoke to had received this amount yet.
Madhubani district magistrate Shirsat Kapil Ashok said the administration would soon set up flood protection centres in the affected areas and send teams to the affected villages to assess the damage. “Under the house damage grants, there are provisions for grant of ₹95,000 for concrete houses and ₹13,500 for huts made of mud and hay.”
“We are working very hard to repair the embankment sooner to prevent further flash floods and restore connectivity with villages that have been cut off after the embankment breach,” Sambhu Kumar, sub divisional officer (SDO), water resources department, Jhanjharpur.
Kumar said that four small bridges constructed between the eastern and western embankments had led to silt accumulation, which in turn raised the level of the river bed.
“The deluge is a man-made disaster,” he said.