Climate Change

DTE Ground Report: Flood camps have become second homes for people in Assam

The administration has hardly done anything to address recurrent flooding; people consequently have been left on their own

By Shagun
Published: Friday 24 June 2022
Photo: Shagun
Photo: Shagun Photo: Shagun

Assam is flooded almost every year, including this year. The administration usually does little to help people affected annually by floods. They have thus taken to making temporary camps in upland regions on their own, year after year. Such tiny flood camps are now second homes to lakhs of people in the state, Down To Earth found out recently.

There are government flood camps too. But many people prefer to make their own camps, due to the government camps being far from their houses. They bring their own material like tin sheets, tarpaulins and bamboo sticks.

The number of people affected by flooding in Assam was four million in May. But it went up to 5.5 million in June, according to government data.

“Our lives are turned upside down thrice a year. Earlier, I used to feel angry. I used to think that the government will help. But now, we are used to it,” Minnoti Devi, a 58-year-old resident of Roinhapatthar village in Morigaon district, told Down To Earth.

She and the others stay in camps in June, August and again in October. This time, they had to do it earlier-than-usual when it started flooding in May.

They are currently separated from their homes by a bridge. Their now-submerged houses are under the right side of the bridge. They are staying in a camp on the road on the left side of the bridge which is located in the Khandajal area.

Each tiny camp made of canvas sheets and clothes has an almost 6x4 square feet space. There is a makeshift bed on one side and makeshift kitchen on the other.

The sandy floor is covered with some wooden logs. There are no toilets here and people go by boat to the river to relieve themselves.

“We were sleeping at night when the water started coming inside the house. We rushed out in the morning,” 28-year-old Lokhi Devi, said. She said she has had to rush out like this for as long as she can remember.

Varsha Devi, 23, is visibly upset. Her three-year-old daughter has developed a skin allergy while staying in the camp. “The doctor says it is because of the unhygienic conditions we are living in. So many of us get frequent fevers,” she said.

All families in the camp have agricultural lands where they cultivate paddy, jute, mustard and corn. But now, they will have to look for daily wage labour since the crops have been damaged.

Dilip Sarkar, a resident of Singimari village, also in Morigaon, told DTE that he had spent 14 of the last 16 years in flood relief camps.

Sarkar and his family came to Singimari in 2006. Their earlier village of Bahakajari, located 20 kilometres away, had submerged in water in the 2004 floods and had ceased to exist.

This year, he and his family shifted to the camp in the third week of May when floodwaters entered their village of 900 households. The floodwaters finally began to recede in mid-June. But that is when another bout of heavy rainfall struck and the families decided to stay put.

The encampment now has scores of small camps as people are constantly arriving with their tin sheets, tarpaulin, bamboo sticks and belongings to escape the flood.

Vibha Biswas, who stays in a camp a few km away from the Roinhapatthar one, laughed when DTE asked how she felt about having to spend most of her life in camps.

“The only solace is that we are in this together,” she said, talking about other families of her village of Malputa. People of this village are fishers and are currently staying put in temporary shelters that they have made on a vacant plot of private land.

“This is where we come each time. Because it is an upland area. But tomorrow, if the owner of the land decides to build something here, we will have to look for another place,” Ratarani Biswas, said.

The people of Lakshisuti village who live in a camp in Dhemaji, some 370 km away from Morigaon, go through worse. They keep getting displaced and don’t have a permanent house anymore.

Their current address is a small camp on the side of a road connecting two villages. “The river is just 300 metres away from here. Earlier, the river used to flow some 4-5 km away. Every year, erosion happens and the river spreads. Next year, most probably you won’t find us here,” 44-year-old Komal Basumatary, said.

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