Stranded On Sliver Of High Ground: Scenes In Flood-Hit Assam

Rains flood large swathes of Assam every year. In the worst-hit district of Barpeta, marooned villagers tell why the burden of recurring floods shouldn't fall on them alone

Amid the epidemic, people in Assam's flooded villages have no means to follow physical distancing.

Kalgachia, Assam:

These days, not many boats are seen on the Beki River, an overflowing tributary of the Bramhaputra that has inundated vast areas of Barpeta - flood-hit Assam's hardest hit district.

Ainal Haque, a 66-year-old farmer in Barpeta's Jaurimari village, has to feed a family of seven, but he has lost everything to the flood in the last one month - his hut, cattle, standing paddy in the fields and even the jute plantation.

"We have been facing a series of floods for more than a month now. It has led to huge losses which we cannot recover with a small patch of land. I have lost more than Rs 2 lakh and I don't know how we will make meet ends," Mr Haque told NDTV.

Rains flood the state every year. This year, floods first came in June and the water receded, but then came this week's deluge which flooded the Brahmaputra and its network of tributaries, including the Beki River on whose floodplain rests Barpeta's Kalgachia leading to unprecedented flooding. The town, which is 160 km from Guwahati, is hence among the most affected areas - the only things visible other than water are roofs of submerged huts and jute plantations.

Though rains have weakened over the past two days and floodwaters have started to recede in some parts, the situation remains grim with nearly 40 lakh people affected. Two more flood-related deaths were reported today taking this year's toll to 71.

Some 800 people who live in Kalgachia have all scattered to different small high-ground areas. About 50 to 100 of them had taken shelter on a 2,000 square-foot patch of land, barely enough space for two families. Men, women, children, cattle, livestock, all crammed under tarpaulin sheets at a time when Assam logged over 12,000 of the total 20,000 coronavirus cases between 15th June and 15th July.

"Last month, the first wave of floods came for two-three days. Then the water went done and then there was sudden spike. We did not even get a chance to cut the standing ripe crop," another flood victim, Shanur Islam, said.

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Living with floods is not new for the people of Assam. Every year, they lose land and livelihood to the water and just somehow save their lives by moving to higher ground. If they're lucky, they get to take their livestock along.

"The second wave of floods came suddenly. It washed away our cattle shed and some of my livestock," said Ahshma Khatun.

Amid the Covid epidemic, these marooned people have no scope to maintain a safe physical distance. There is only one tubewell for over 50 people and the government relief has come only once in the past one month.

Local MLA Rafikul Islam of All India United Democratic Front said the recurring floods should not be Barpeta and Assam's problem alone.

"Our demand of declaring Assam's flood and erosion as a National problem has been not fulfilled. First there was the Congress government in Assam and at the Centre. Now, it's same with the BJP. This is very unfortunate," MLA Islam told NDTV.

Back in Kalgachia, each and every mound of raised ground is teeming with people and the threat of the spread of the coronavirus looms large.