Flood And Pandemic: Double Disaster For Assam But Are We Talking Enough About It?

Woman in floods, Assam flood

Growing up in Assam, I have always seen how the Assam floods wreak havoc every monsoon. As I travelled back to my home in Assam, I could see the panic hovering over the people’s faces. I could not help but get anxious at the single glance of pictures and videos of houses getting fully submerged and the concrete houses becoming invisible in moments. The sight was scary. People in Assam have lost their homes, jobs, their land and as a result their only source of livelihood.

For other parts of the country, monsoon might be a sheer rainy delight but for the people in Assam, it is that time of the year again when everything they have gets drowned in the floodwater. I have seen this happening to Assam almost every year while growing up. Every year the floods cause huge destruction to property, farmland, tea production and loss of human lives. I have heard stories from my parents how the ‘banpani’ (flood) created havoc and submerged the farmlands near the village where my grandparents resided. Now too, we were quite anxious about the possibility of floodwater entering my grandparents’ house.

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But the thing that saddened me more was to see that the country was not talking enough about this. I could not overlook the lack of coverage of such an important matter.

While, in large parts of the country, we have to only stay at home during this pandemic, people in Assam are face to face with a natural disaster too. This year, it is not only about fighting floods but a much bigger challenge ahead of us. This year, due to COVID-19, the burden on Assam is doubled. What frightened me was to know that at present, 3,376 villages are under water and 1,27,647.25 hectares of crop areas have been damaged across Assam, ASDMA said. Goalpara, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Barpeta, Dhubri, Morigaon are among the most affected districts. 

Current situation in Assam and my constant state of anxiety: 

This year’s floods have been one of the worst, moreover due to the ongoing pandemic and the fear of spreading COVID-19 infections, it has been the most difficult times for the people. Relief kits containing essentials such as groceries, clothes, sanitary napkins, masks, sanitisers are being distributed in the affected areas. People are being shifted to higher places from the submerged areas, they are being helped to build temporary abodes and are also being provided with required medications. As of now authorities have also set up 480 relief camps across 20 districts, providing temporary shelter for more than 60,000 people. But is that enough?

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The flood survivors are facing different problems ranging from lack of income to lack of facilities in relief shelters making it more difficult for them. SheThePeople decided to go and speak to the people in the affected areas and know what they think.

Rosema Begum, a flood survivor talked to us about a similar concern. Earlier Rosema’s husband used to sell farm produce and earn for the entire family but now their farmland is filled with floodwater, their only source of income and their work has been halted.

While talking about the various problems she and other women are facing while living in relief shelter camps, she said, “We don’t have washrooms, we don’t have water facilities, we don’t have any means to maintain our intimate hygiene. For the women here, it is really difficult for us to manage here without any washroom. We don’t even have a proper house, we are living in self-made tents on a half-damaged embankment. The electricity has been cut due to the floods. We also don’t have fodder for our cattle, farming which was our source of income has now been stopped because of the floods. Except for the little amount of rice provided by the government we didn’t receive any other kind of help regarding setting up of washrooms or hygiene. Since the last three years, it has been flooding annually here.”

Sabina Yasmin is another flood survivor from Assam’s Kakotigaon village. She used to work in a stone polishing industry as manual labour but due to the floods, she is now jobless and also homeless. Sabina says,It has been flooding since fifteen days now. Being a mother and caretaker of the family, I am not able to do my regular household work, cook food or feed my children properly. All of us including our children are surviving on a one time meal. All of our husbands are also unemployed because of the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19. We are not getting any kind of help from the government, we don’t even have BPL cards, my house has been flooded with water three times till now in July. We want the authorities to rebuild new roads as well as our houses with an increase in height to avoid floods from next year.” 

Difficulties in providing relief this year due to lockdown: 

A 21-year-old student, named Marvin Minhaz, who runs an NGO in Assam and is currently working on flood relief projects told us about the difficulties that they are specifically facing this year to provide relief due to the lockdown and curfew imposed in most of the places in Assam.

“I am a student living in Assam’s Nagaon district and I run an NGO. We are working on flood relief projects and doing multiple crowdfunded charitable programs for the same cause. We are having a lot of issues as we are unable to accept in-goods and cash donations, while abiding the social distancing norms. The curfew imposed after 7 pm every evening and other restrictions make it difficult for us to work extensively on the relief projects. We are not able to extensively survey the places affected by flood due to lockdowns and curfew placed by the local authorities. We are facing a lot of trouble to mobilise and allocate resources but we are trying our best to help the affected. We are also having a lack of funds due to COVID-19 as the businesses are suffering a huge loss.”

Assam floods every year but what intensifies this disaster? 

Floods in Assam have been a yearly phenomenon, but it was due to the 1950 Great Earthquake in the region that led to massive changes in its topography and made things more difficult to manage. Assam’s topography and meteorological factors such as high rainfall are the obvious reasons behind the flood every year.  Besides, Brahmaputra is the largest water carrying river of India. But what intensifies the disaster is the failure of management to deal with rivers in the region.

Besides corruption also has a role to play. A large number of embankments have not been reinforced and there is a huge contractor-administration nexus that reportedly benefits monetarily from a flood situation. 

Every year the state loses around 8,000 square km of land to erosion due to flooding. On an average, the flood kills 50 people every year.

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Townships have sprung up across Assam without proper flood-risk management. Rampant deforestation and cutting of hills have only worsened the situation in our region. So when will it stop? I feel it is high time when we stop normalising the yearly destruction.

Pallabi Dutta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.