In July 2016, incessant rains caused rivers Brahmaputra in Assam and Mahananda in Bihar to cross the danger mark. Overwhelmed by the flood water, many lives were lost and over 60 lakh people were affected in 37 districts of the states. Countless of them were forced to leave behind their homes and farmlands which gave them livelihood. They sought refuge in relief camps, set up temporary shelters on embankments and near railway lines and roads using what they could find. Oxfam soon began its emergency response to meet the most urgent needs of families in the worst affected districts.
Of these was Jorhat in Assam which has seen its most severe flooding since 1998.
On 8 July 2016, 35-year-old Rekhamoni Gogoi and her family abandoned their home when flood water entered their house in Jorhat district. They now live in a makeshift shelter. Their paddy fields gave them enough rice to last them a year so, during the floods, they tried to save the paddy grains they had stored. “We dropped a lot of the grains in a hurry while trying to put them in bags,” she says. They managed to salvage only some household items after the water level went down a few days later.
The flood water has damaged standing crops and deposited sand on fertile farmlands not only in Assam but also in Bihar, such as those of jute cultivators in Katihar district.
“Now there will not be any labour work to buy food or repair my damaged house,” says Gudiya Devi. Concern for the future is evident on her face, but her strength too cannot be missed – for Devi has lived through two floods that have hit her village in Katihar district. The water has taken away her all both times. Teary eyed, she says things will be tougher this time around than in 1987 when she and her husband rebuilt their lives together after the disaster. Now, she lives alone with very limited resources to count on to tide her over in this time of need. She has to find work, which is very hard to come by as the flood water has inundated farms.
Loss of income is a major challenge, but floods make people more vulnerable in other ways too. Many of the flood survivors are still struggling to put together basic necessities of food, clean water, shelter and sanitation.
Pankaj Sharma and Devanti Devi lived in a thatched house before the floods. Now, the condition of their home is unlivable. Sharma used to repair cycles which he can no longer do. “We are going to use this for building a house,” says Sharma pointing to an emergency relief kit he has received from Oxfam. Both him and his wife are people with disabilities. They have an infant child for whom clean water is essential to keep healthy which is tough to secure during and after floods due to contaminated water sources. Stagnant water too poses the threat of malaria. Among other things, the Oxfam kit contains tarpaulin and ground sheet for temporary shelter as well as water purification tablets.
Oxfam continues to work in the worst affected districts of the states and has already reached out to more than 1,100 families in Assam and Bihar. The path to recovery for flood survivors is, however, going to be long given the extent of their losses.
You can contribute to Oxfam’s response by clicking here.