Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Flood Relief Work at Bihar..... An Experience

First, I would like to mention that the flood in Bihar is not a normal flood at all. A river has shifted its course in this biggest ever disaster Bihar has seen. It needs a deeper understanding before thinking of any kind of relief or rehabilitation work.

I visited Bihar to understand those issues and what problems the people of Bihar are facing. In the media though there were news, which stated about the flood and the river shifting its course, I never was aware of the magnitude of the disaster. On the first day when I reached at Saharsa, I thought of visiting the Mega Camps which government has organized in and around Saharsa, The camp I visited had a population of about 2600 people in it where there were arrangements for food, medicine and shelter for the people. However, the people were not happy with the distribution and the way the camp operated, but still that was a well managed and properly arranged camp. I started to think about why there are many requirements, when the people are properly taken care in a shelter in the camps? I thought I might probably get the answer in the next couple of days in which I would be staying here and interacting with people. I interacted with Ranjana [women at the camp who had a story to tell about why she is here today? She lost her husband to the river. Likewise, there were many Ranjana’s and many more stories.

We on the next morning planned to conduct a medical camp at deep in the district where any NGO’s or the Government aid has not reached. We earlier identified the blocks and the panchayats we could possibly work together. That day we went to Kishanpur Panchayat along with 6 doctors [who were a part of Lion’s Club team] and a few more volunteers. The local volunteers took care of the arrangements of the camp at the village Bhajanpatti. We were exactly located on the bank of a place where we could only see water all around. Its one of the most affected areas through which the river was flowing earlier. Still the water over there was finding its way to drain down. The local volunteers took care of the responsibility of brining in people from the villages using the boat and local volunteers. When they went in the boat to bring in people then I understood that there are many of such villages spread all across the water, where still people are surviving. They are not in a state where they are willing to leave their village and move on to the camp. The reasons are the following.

  • A person who has his / her house at the village was finding very difficult to leave that place where they have cultivated and farmed.
  • The mega camps can only provide shelter for a particular amount of time and after that.
  • People who had their cattle over there were never moved out and they were more worried upon their cattle as that are the income generating source they have.
  • Most of people don’t even come to the mega camp, which would provide them a place to stay.

We checked more than 850 villagers that day at the camp. It covered 5 villages of Kishanpur Panchayat namely Surmaha, Pama, Kishanpur, Bhajanpatti and Paharpur.

The next day morning the doctor’s team left to Kanp for their medical camp and I went to Triveniganj area for relief material distribution, which we got with us and to interact with the local people. Our coordinator Rajesh guided us, and it was shocking to see the water flowing like a river on the agricultural land. The land where the water has recited is filled with sand and some lands were with water, which had a lot of algae and other things, which gave a bad smell. This is just the story of the villages on the banks of the flowing river. We reached a canal in which there was a stream of Kosi flowing earlier and with this flood the canal broke and the water went into all the villages on the left end of the canal. Fortunately Triveniganj town escaped from this. Most of the roads were broken and is filled with water and when we got down the canal we could see an ocean in front of us where some boats were operated.

I got to know that there are tents for about a stretch of 120 KM by the village people on the banks of the canal [both sides] who have came from the villages inside the current ocean. Kosi was flowing with lot of anger and current in front of them. The agricultural lands were filled with the silt spitted by Kosi. Army men were operating boats at shift basis to distribute relief materials brought by NGO’s deep into the village. There are a lot many people still in the villages deep in the areas that are trying to protect themselves from the flowing water. With water all around them for more than a month now, some are dieing because of the disease spread there. It’s really pathetic that the government relief materials have not even reached the people on the banks of the canal where people are starving for food. They rush whenever they see a truck or van running on the road imagining that they may get at least a pack of biscuit or a piece of bread. These two lac or more people on the bank have survived with the help of the local people and the army men who’ve rescued them from the village. They all are carrying a high hope that one day the water will recite and they’ll move back to their village, but the question is what will they do over there? There is no chance for agriculture at least for the next two years after the water recitation as the lands is with silt. The silt thickness is more than half a foot by now. Most of the cattle’s died / got carried away by the water. Those who have cattle’s in the village are finding difficult to feed them now as they are surrounded with water. Cattle’s are also dieing because of the diseases spreading.

It was hard for me to talk to the villagers there. They were so kind enough to ask for a cup of tea, though they were starving to death. I have no words to express the gesture they had for us, but I couldn’t find what I can do for them. They all have lost something or the other. They all were so normal with a whole lot of pain in them, which were visible only after we started to talk to them. Otherwise people will find them normal and don’t even realize that they’ve been affected. Millions of thanks to the NGO’s and volunteers who’ve and are trying to keep faith and hope in the people. It’s a shame on the government that they are helpless and pointing fingers on others for the entire disaster.

If something has to be done, it’s not just giving clothes or food or shelter to them temporarily, it’s the long time rehabilitation and livelihood back to them once the water gets recited.

I would also thank to the people of Bihar for being so kind. I had a different picture about them before I went there and now I have an entirely different picture for them. There is loads of respect from me for them.


Gouri Chugh said...

It's never too late to comment. i agree with you on the idea dat its not just temporary relief but long term rehabilitation which is important and which none of the NGOs will work on. Or may be new NGOs will thrive on the idea of their long term rehabilitation. It's a gloomy picture but hats off to the people of Bihar for their spirit. I remember dat two years after the storm in Orissa, the earthquake in Gujarat struck. The poor victims in Orissa collected clothes to be sent to Gujarat. These people are truely an inspiration.

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