Thousands living under open sky in flood-hit Bihar

By Imran Khan

Bagaha/Purnea (Bihar), (IANS): Sundari Devi and her family of seven, including an elderly mother-in-law and children, are struggling to survive along an elevated road here for the last three days.

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Authorities have failed to provide them a polythene or plastic sheet. Their roof is the sky.

Sundari Devi is one of the thousands of flood victims left in the lurch across 14 districts of Bihar.

“We are living in the open. There is no help yet from the government to provide even a makeshift shelter. We are covering ourselves with two polyester sarees,” said Sundari Devi.

Some of the worst flood-hit areas are in Seemanchal, Koshi and Mithilanchal regions.

Over 73 lakh people have been affected by the Bihar floods. So far, 72 people have died. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll to over 100.

“The sarees are hardly adequate to resist the heavy rains,” said Sundari Devi, in her late 30s. She is a resident of Shrirampur village in West Champaran district.

Her husband Ramsharan Mandal, a marginal farmer, said: “It all happened suddenly late on Monday night when flood waters inundated our village. The Gandak river breached the embankment. We failed to carry anything as we escaped from our house.”

Not far away from Sundari Devi is another woman, Parmila Devi, seated with her family of five and some relatives.

Parmila Devi said there was nothing to protect them from the weather. “We are living under an open sky,” said the woman in her mid-40s.

Both women told IANS that more than men, it is the women, children and the elderly who face an uphill task coping with homelessness — on roads, embankments or other high land amidst flood water.

“No one has come to us to offer help,” Parmila Devi said. Many like her have taken shelter along national and state highways to escape nature’s fury.

Rukhsana Khatoon and her eight-member family are camping on a high rise embankment of Kosi’s tributary in Purnea district.

“We have no option. We have not received any relief from the government. In the last four days heavy rains have lashed us for hours. For most of the nearly 500 people here, the situation is no different,” she said.

“We are at God’s mercy,” added her mother-in-law, Jasmun Nisha.

Only, the lucky ones have been able to take shelter in the relief camps set up by the government in school and other buildings.

The Bihar government has set up 504 relief camps in which over one lakh flood victims have taken shelter, an official said.

An official of the state disaster management department admitted that there were thousands more who have been displaced and were living under the open sky.

“Tents and polythene sheets have been distributed to some. But there is a shortage of both materials. Soon we will be able to provide both,” said the official.

Bihar Disaster Management Department Principal Secretary Pratyaya Amrit said: “We have already speeded up relief and will be providing polythene sheets to flood victims… We are providing dry ration including rice, potato, pulse, black gram and match boxes.”

Amrit said the government had decided to set up more relief camps and provide tents to ensure temporary shelter for the flood victims till they return to their homes.

According to him, till date 274,320 people have been evacuated and 116,138 were in government shelters.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has repeatedly directed the officials to speed up the rescue and relief work.

He has asked the Health Department to arrange for medicines and insecticides like DDT sprays to check outbreak of diseases once the flood water subsided.

Angry flood victims in Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar, West Champaran, Muzaffarpur and Purnea districts have staged protests by blocking roads including national highways demanding relief.

The government has deployed four Army teams besides 22 NDRF and 15 SDRF teams in relief and rescue operations.

It has cancelled the leave of doctors and heath department officials in the affected districts.