At least 93 dead due to lightning in Bihar. Continuous heavy rainfall posing high flood risk; last year’s flood victims still living under tarpaulins

The Met department has issued flood warning in Bihar due to continuous heavy rainfall expected over the region for the next two to three days. Meanwhile, several families displaced due to last year’s flash floods are still living under tarpaulins with no basic facilities

Shivani Gupta
| Updated: June 26th, 2020

Kaise hain? Kya kahein? Aapda ke marein hain [How am I? What do I say? We are the victims of disaster].”

This is how 53-year-old Kameshwar Mandal, a resident of Naruar village in Jhanjharpur block of Madhubani district responded on being questioned about his preparation for this year’s floods in Bihar, the country’s most flood-prone state.

Just a year ago, in the mid-night of July 13-14, Mandal and his fellow villagers had rushed out of their hutments to save their lives, as the western embankment of Kamla Balan river breached under pressure from the rising flood waters and inundated their village, washing away everything that came in its way, including the cement and brick structures.

Shelters where around 59 families have been living for around one year

Ever since then 59 flood-affected families of Naruar village are living under tarpaulins at an alternate site, about 1.5-km from their original houses washed away by the last year’s floods. And the state is already bracing for a new cycle of floods, displacement and destruction.

Yesterday, on June 25, at least 93 people died within a day in the state due to lightning and thunderstorm, as heavy monsoon rainfall continues to lash the state. As per the India Meteorological Department, heavy rainfall is expected to continue in the region for the next two to three days.

Condition of these water-logged shelters

Predictably, Mandal is a worried man. “It takes years of hard work and saving every penny to build a house. We lost everything in last year’s flood. We are already leading miserable lives under tarpaulins. The only thing left to lose now is our lives,” he told Gaon Connection.

“Last year on July 13-14, the embankment breached and our homes were washed away. We lost our ration cards, food grains, utensils clothes, every thing. Twelve days later, on July 26, we were moved to this new site, which gets water-logged every time it rains slightly,” he lamented.

Even after a year post floods, original homes of the families are still water-logged

For the last almost one year now, 59 families of Naruar village are living on an uneven patch of land under tarpaulins. Their original homes are still water-logged. And the tarpaulin ‘homes’ are no better. Every time it rains, the entire area gets inundated and women and children use their palms, utensils and pots to drain the water out of their tarpaulin ‘homes’. But to no avail.

Apart from Mandal’s village, over 14 lakh people were affected due to the flash floods in 18 blocks of Madhubani last July. The floods were so massive they affected over 2.5 million people in 12 districts of North Bihar.

Women throwing water out of her home

Bihar floods, an annual feature

It must be noted Bihar is India’s most flood-prone state — more than 17 per cent of the country’s total flood-prone area is in Bihar. Of its total 38 districts, 28 are categorised as flood-prone by the water resources department of the Bihar government. Simply put, 73 per cent of the total geographical area of the state is prone to floods.

And, the reason for this is the plains of Bihar, adjoining Nepal, are drained by a number of rivers that have their catchments in the Himalayas of Nepal. These rivers and their tributaries carry high levels of discharge and sediment load, which are deposited on the plains of Bihar. So every time it rains heavily in Nepal, or north Bihar, rivers in the region swell and inundate the entire landscape.

But, in spite of the state being geographically and historically prone to floods, the state government is almost always caught unaware when the disaster strikes. For instance, 83 people, mostly farmers and landless labourers working in the fields, have died due to lightning strikes in the state within a day.

At least 93 people have died in Bihar due to lightning and thunderstorm. Photo: Umesh Kumar Ray

Resettled in tarpaulin ‘homes’

For the last one year, 33-year-old Babita Devi and her five more family members (three kids, husband and mother-in-law) are living under a tarpaulin in Naruar village. Ask her how they survive in their new shelter, she lashes out: “The other day, it started raining at 3 in the night and continued till 10 in the morning. Our house had knee-deep water. I managed to cook food for my children only after 1pm.”

“We face problem in cooking, accessing drinking water, and even taking a bath. The only two public toilets here are choked. We have to defecate in the open,” she added.

Toilets in these shelters

These families receive ration from the government — wheat, rice, and kerosene — and the rest they have to manage on their own. “Because of the lockdown, there is no earning in the last three months. We borrow and buy. No one knows how miserable our lives are,” she lamented.

A year ago, Babita Devi had a pucca house (brick and cement), which got washed away in the flash floods last July. Although she has stayed back with her husband, and now living under a tarpaulin, a number of young married women have moved in with their parents, as living in such makeshift tarpaulin houses for a year is no joke. And, a fresh wave of floods is expected to hit the state soon.

“All our foodgrains and other edible items get wet and soggy. We cannot even eat one proper meal a day here,” 24-year-old Sajan Kumar Mandal told Gaon Connection, as he cleared the mud and water from his tarpaulin ‘house’.

Sajan Kumar Mandal carrying shovel in his hand

Life in tarpaulin houses is full of other threats. “The other day when it rained, there was three-feet water-logging and frogs were jumping here and there. Often we snakes as well. But, we have no where to go,” said Kameshwar. “Initially, we used to get some powder from help centres to sprinkle to shoo away snakes. But, after a few days, they also stopped helping,” he added.

“Every time it rains, our belongings wash away and we have to protect our kids. Insects keep crawling on our chapatis. Often our children go hungry and we have to feed then chuda-chini [flattened rice and sugar],” said 38-year-old Kusum. “We worked hard and built a house so that our kids could study and have a better future. The floods destroyed everything. There is no future of our kids,” she added.

Water-logged shelters

Children in this makeshift resettlement colony Naruar village don’t study and the careers of youngsters are at a risk. A teacher was assigned to teach these children post-flash floods. But, as per the local villagers, these teachers haven’t been coming regularly. “We haven’t gone to school since the embankment broke last year. Some teachers came to teach us, but only for a few days. We don’t study now,” said 13-year-old Abhijeet Kumar.

In November last year, these flood-affected families were allowed land to build homes

Musical chair continues

Four months post the floods, in November last year, these flood-affected families were allowed land by the then district magistrate of Madhubani, Shrisat Kapil Ashok. As financial assistance, they were promised Rs 95,100 per family so that they can build their houses. But, the place where they have been allocated land is in a poor condition and uninhabitable. Also, they received the financial assistance only this March by when the COVID19 lockdown was enforced throughout the country.

“The government has allotted us land which is unlivable. We have received Rs 95,000 per family. But, where do we build our homes? The government has failed us,” said 21-year-old Ankur Mandal. “We have been informed the land allotted to us is under a dispute and we will have to shift to our original site where we lost homes last July,” he added.

On being contacted, Nilesh Deore, district magistrate of Madhubani told Gaon Connection: “After I joined here in March, we have given Rs 95,100 each as financial assistance to the 56 families. Last November, they were already given alternate land papers. And, as per the State Disaster Relief guidelines, we gave them the relief fund, too.”

Regarding breaching of embankment, he informed, “We had asked researchers of IIT Roorkee to study the problem and they have suggested use of iron and steel pipes for making the embankment. This work is almost done.”

On June 25, Nitish Kumar, chief minister Bihar, visited the Naruar village to inspect the progress of the embankment

Clearly, the problem of flood-affected people of Bihar and the state administration are far from over, as the state is facing another threat of floods while it is still trying to ‘resettle’ the past flood-victims.