Assam Again Under Water

While natural disasters like flood affect millions, relief and rehabilitation measures very often ignore the long-term impact on people and the society. Amarjyoti Borah visits Morigaon in Assam to find out how people have been paralysed by a vicious cycle of debt even as they battle the current wave of flood.

For Babulal Bordoloi, his wife Umeshwari and his son, the devastating flood this year is nothing new except that he has become a little poorer, and close to being in debt.

Bordoloi, a farmer and a resident of the Bhurbandha village in Morigaon district of Assam, which is one of the worst flood affected districts in the state, laughs when asked about how the flood has affected him.

“I have been answering this question every year since the past 9-10 years. I inherited a plot of 5 bighas of agricultural land from my father, but my income has gradually come down every year and now I am not even able to earn enough from cultivation to feed my family,” said Bordoloi.

According to Bordoloi, till over a decade and a half back, he was leading a comfortable life as a farmer and was able to earn enough to feed his family and also to make some saving.

“I used to easily earn about fifty thousand rupees from my land, and besides that could save enough grain for my family for the whole year,” said Bordoloi.

However that has declined sharply by over half, and this year he fears it will go down even further.

On being asked the reason, Bordoloi said that the frequency and intensity of the flood has increased, and as his land is close to the river, there has been deposition of silt on the land which has reduced productivity.

“I am now without any savings, and this year’s flood has damaged whatever little hope I had of trying to rebuild myself,” said Bordoloi.

In an attempt to supplement the family income Umeshwari worked as a daily wager in a farmland for which she earned Rs. 100-120 per day but it consumed all her time.

“I left the work as I was not able to provide sufficient time for my child, who is malnourished,” she says.

Bodoloi, being illiterate about banks had borrowed a sum of Rupees twenty thousand from a money lender two years back for his son’s medical expenses and to buy food and essential items, and he was hoping to pay off the loan from the income from his field.

“My creditor is now putting pressure on me for the loan repayment, and I am not able to see any options in sight,” he added.

The Bordoloi family is not alone.

Jayant Malang is a 35-year-old farmer from the same village and owes 3 bighas of land. The family is facing a severe financial crisis as the production from their land has sharply come down over the years.

Till about 8 years back he was able to earn Rupees twenty to twenty five thousand from his land in the Kharif season, and with the money he was comfortable.

But now his earnings have declined as a result of decline in the production from his field, and he too blames the increase in flood intensity and the spillage of sand on his field due to the flood.

His paddy cultivation in the Kharif season has come down from 480 to 600 kgs per bigha of land to less than 240 kgs per bigha of land.

After a series of bad crop in the past 6 years, he started a road side eatery last year but the business is yet to pick up.

“I am thinking of leaving farming, and with all my savings I started an eatery last year, but the response till now has not been good,” he said.

Floods and Destruction

Lakhs of people across the state has been affected by the devastating flood this year, and properties worth lakhs of rupees has been damaged.

According to reports of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), at least 50 roads, five bridges and 14 schools have been damaged in the state flood.

According to mid-July data from the Assam government, over 18 lakh people in 2,498 villages of 23 districts have been affected.

More than 50 people have died and the number could go up to almost 70-80.

“This is because several people have got washed away in many severely flood affected areas, and their dead bodies are yet to be recovered, and so have not been declared dead till now by the government authorities,” said Keshab Chatradhara, a Dhemaji based social activist.

The flood situation has also affected Arunachal Pradesh, and according to version of the state government, apart from damage by the rain and flood, landslides have damaged roads and highways.

Speaking to the media, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu said that authorities are working to restore roads and connectivity in the state.

“Floods and landslides triggered by incessant rain have cut off large areas, including many district headquarters,” Khandu added.

As a damage control measure, Union minister Kiren Rijiju, accompanied by officials of the National Disaster Response Force, NITI Ayog and National Disaster Management Authority, on July 13 undertook an aerial survey of the flood-hit districts.

Rijiju said that a sufficient emergency fund has already been released to the State Governments and Rupees 500 crores is available in the SDRF Fund.

“A high level inter-Ministerial team would be deputed to the States within one month to assess the damages,” said Rijiju.

Rijiju added that for Arunachal Pradesh, the Centre has released advance grant-in-aid of Rs 51.30 crore for rescue and relief operations on account of the flood.

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