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WHEN THE WATER BECAME A NIGHTMARE!
Image and Article by Tania Chatterjee
On the top of Covid-19 pandemic crisis, Super Cyclone Amphan with wind speed 180 kmph hit West Bengal on 20th May, 2020 affecting 10 million people in the Eastern Indian region. I personally visited few badly effected regions of Gosaba block in Sundanban delta and witnessed the massive destruction first hand. The severe storm associated with 25 meter high tidal surge not only devastated the houses, trees and crops but also breached the river dykes causing large scale land submergence by salt water. Salt water intrusion has rendered the land unfit for agriculture for coming years. People have lost all the fish in their fish-ponds and most of their livestock. Through this article, I am sharing the distress and suffering caused by Amphan. The cyclone has passed away, its calm but the silence tells hundreds of heart wrenching stories of human suffering and pain.
The Hungry Water
The storm and tidal surge broke the river dykes and flooded the deltaic islands as stated by Bijali Mondal. The dykes were not repaired for 5-7 days which meant that the island was flooded by sea water twice a day. The tide ate all the stored rice for this year; my family will go hungry this year; Bijali’s eyes swelled. Bijali Mondal a mother of 2 beautiful children stored rice for her family’s year long consumption. The cyclone and the following tidal surge has flooded her house and submerged all her rice stock. The farm land is also flooded by saline water, so I cannot grow rice in the next season and Bijali wept.
Every day Bijali travels to the river bank and waits for food aid (food relief); some day she received 1 or 2 kg of rice, whereas on other unfortunate days she get some puffed rice (muri) or flattened rice (chira). This is not a single story of Bijali Mondal, there are hundreds of women who are worried about food for tomorrow. This daily food aid is the only food she receives for her family. Availability of food is one of the key identified needs of the families.
Hundreds of women flock wait at river banks for 4-5 hours every day. Every day they wait with the hope that today a relief boat will provide sufficient food aid. This food aid is presently their only source of food; if no food relief boat arrives on that day hundreds of families sleep hungry. Looking at people waiting with dejection will make your heart weep. As they wait they tend to maintain a social distance but slowly they come closer to each other while sharing their woes. When the relief boat arrives, people jostle to get their share; I mutter to myself that hunger is worse than virus.
Figure 1- Bijali Mondal in front of her broken and once submerged house; she lost all her food grain stock for the year
Figure 2- Hundreds of women come to the river bank waiting for the relief boat; although there is no standard relief supply and distribution but every day some or other group of people provide some kind of relief material
The Water washed away my livelihood:
“Cyclones are part of our lives in Sundarban. We have survived cyclones like Aila (2009) but the damage caused by Amphan is unbearable. It took 8 days to repair the broken river dykes in my village and till that time, salt water entered the island twice a day with high tide. My home was under knee deep water till 8th day, said Radha Mali of Puijali village, Gosaba Block, South 24 Parganas.
Radha Mali and her family stare at their fish pond and farm land with a bewildered look. With swelling eyes and shaky voice Radha explains that the fish pond and the farmland were their only source of family livelihood. Both the farmland and fish pond are now filled with salt water. All the fish in the pond are washed away. She cried while saying that I don’t have the money and equipment to empty and clean the pond before the rainy season. My farm land is also destroyed; I am clueless and unable to gather myself and my thoughts.
Rita Mondal of Puijali, Gosaba Block is not standing on a lake but agricultural farm land which is filled with sea water. She is going to a neighbouring hamlet to collect drinking water. A hand pump in the neighbouring hamlet is still yielding sweet potable water. She placed a hand on her shoulder to show that after the cyclone the water was up to her shoulder height. Until the dyke was repaired the water level remained high; she walked every day in deep water to carry drinking water for her family.
She explains that all the toilet and water points in her village were submerged and damaged. As the water dries up the stench becomes strong. The muck from the toilet pits are potential source of disease as explained by Mr. Sudam Chandra Roy from Tagore Society of Rural Development (TSRD); it is therefore important to disinfect the water pumps before usage. Presently the only resort is open defecation on the river dykes. Just like Rita Mondal and her family there are hundreds if not thousands of families whose toilets are damaged and are struggling for drinking water.
Figure 3-Anima Mondal showing her destroyed house filled with mud and muck; she is trying to recover and repair her house
Figure 4- Anima Mondal’s daughter shows me the mosquito net when her mother explains me that this is the only items remaining in the house when we returned after the cyclone.
From afternoon the wind started blowing at a shocking speed; Anima Mondal explained. We carried few essential items like bank book, ID cards, our land papers with us and took shelter to the local flood centre along with my two kids and husband. Next day morning we came to check my home; there was nothing left, everything was washed away and room was filled with mud and muck. After years of hard work we built this house but nothing remains now “Anima Mondol of Rangabelia busted into tears”; the mosquito net is the only items that remained intact in my house after the cyclone. The flood took away all my toys and books; Anima’s elder daughter’s eyes filled up.
Figure 5- Sanjoy Mondal with a worried look in front of her vegetable farm land filled with salt water
“We farmers just recovered from the long term damages caused by cyclone Bulbul (2019) to our farm lands and now Amphan has pushed back by few years said Sonjoy Mondol. He is standing in front of his destructed pointed gourd vegetable plot. Every week I produced a quintal of pointed gourd at Rs. 15 per kg. Amphan has finished not only this year’s production but also casted doubts on whether I would be able to farm next year. I don’t see any future here says Sonjoy Mondal . He is standing in front of his destructed pointed gourd vegetable garden.
Figure 6- Anima Mondol is worried for the safety of her month old baby; the dilapidated house is highly unhygienic for her child’s health
Anima Mondal Singh of Biprodaspur Gram Panchayat is concerned about the health and hygiene of her one month old son. She added “after Amphan snakes and insects are entering the house to find food and place to stay; it’s too risky to stay in this broken house with my kid”. Moreover there is no toilet and the water all around is highly polluted. Anima said I have nowhere to go but stay in this broken house.
Figure 7- Dipali Barui and her daughter talking to me while her husband is busy repairing the house.
Amphan has ruined our home, fishing boat and three acres of farm land. I worked with my husband day and night to rebuild this house and bring it in a liveable condition; you cannot imagine the condition of the house after cyclone exclaimed Dipali Barui from Pujali village. Apart from the house my toilet and water pump is broken; all our sources of livelihood have perished. How I am going to feed my child now? Dipali asks me with anguish and hope; not able to give a proper reply I silently prayed for her and bid her a farewell. I looked at her 4 year old daughter, I saw hope in her eyes; a hope that we all can fulfil with our little contribution.
Figure 8 – Manik Das sitting inside his damaged house; he is clueless how to collect money to repair his house
Manik Das from Manmathanagar village worked as a daily wage labourer at Kolkata. The day Government declared lockdown; he managed to return to his village and was waiting for the lockdown to be over, so that he can resume his work. I am the only earning member in my family. I don’t have money to rebuild this broken home; I also don’t have any other alternative livelihood. Moreover, now I am scared to return to Kolkata to take my labour work due to Corona virus; Covid 19 cases are increasing in Kolkata. Like Manik hundreds of others in Sundarban think that migration for labour is their only livelihood option but they are scared to go to cities and get infected by corona virus.
Figure 9 – Subrata Mondal is desperately looking for options to empty the saline water from the pond behind so that with the coming rains the ponds gets filled up with rain water
All the sweet water ponds in this village have turned black with foul smell, said Subrata Mondal from Manmathnagar, Gosaba block. I have two ponds like this and showed me the pond at his back. The water in the pond is black with a strong foul smell. I use to sale pond fish in the market. Not a single fish remained in pond after the cyclone. Rainy season will start within a few weeks; I need to clean and restore my ponds immediately. I don’t have money to hire pumps to flush out the stale saline water.
Figure 10 – Pampa Sarkar waits for hours in the flood shelter to receive relief supplies if it arrives on that day
Pampa Sarkar along with her 2 years old son is waiting at Puijali flood centre for some relief aids. She was waiting for more than 2 hours; it often happens that they wait the whole day and no relief material arrives. There is a critical need to assess the damage and estimate the critical need and coordinate the relief supplies for effective response as stated by Mr. Sudam Chandra Roy from TSRD; making people wait for hours is undignified.
DONATION APPEAL !
This Emergency Appeal requests your immediate and valuable monetary contribution to enable the NGO named Tagore Society for Rural Development (www.tsrd.org) to support the cyclone effected communities in Sundarban. Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD) is one of the oldest and largest civil society organization in the eastern India engaged in rural development since 1969. TSRD is working in more than 1503 villages spread in 35 blocks of two states viz. West Bengal and Jharkhand. TSRD works in Sunderbans and has a project office in Rangabelia block in South 24 Parganas. The organization has been led by veteran freedom fighter Late Pannalal Dasgupta and later on Late Padmashree Tushar Kanjilal, the national teacher awarded by the President of India for his invaluable contribution in social service sector.
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