Flood-hit people suffer in silence, others nonchalant

Dhaka,  Sun,  24 September 2017
Published : 24 Aug 2017, 20:27:05
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Flood-hit people suffer in silence, others nonchalant

Shihab Sarkar
Life of an estimated 7.5 million people in the country has been debilitated by two consecutive spells of deluge, with people in the north and north-eastern regions passing through series of untold sufferings, according to agencies. After the first bout of the flooding hitting the areas spread along the banks of Surma, Kushiyara, Teesta, Brahmaputra, Dharala, etc., the onrush of waters began devouring the country's central region. With the increase in their flows, the region's two large rivers, Ganges-Padma and Jamuna, and some smaller ones began bursting at their seams.  

Notwithstanding the recession of flood waters from a number of rivers and a few areas, the nearly four-month-long flood is still raging in many parts of the country. Chores of life are fast coming back to normal in some areas in the Surma-Kushiyara basin. But yet people in a sizeable number of northern and central districts are engaged in a desperate battle to protect their hearth and home along with properties and cattle from flood waters. To put it crisply, in the second spell of the deluge one-third of the country has gone under water. 

According to National Disaster Response Coordination Centre (NDRCC), around 132 people have lost their lives in the flooding. The NDRCC   puts the area of the cropland damaged by the second phase floods at more than 10,000 hectares. Thanks to the severity of the onslaught of the monsoon floods, life in vast segments of the country has gone haywire. Displacements have been rampant since the start of the disaster, keeping many helplessly marooned. People in the badly affected areas were found frenetically in search of shelters for themselves and their cattle. Insufficient relief materials have been plaguing the flood-hit areas, especially those in the remote and far-flung chars. With educational institutions inundated, careers of thousands of students have been thrown into jeopardy. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on her visit to the flood-hit northern region on August 20 has emphatically assured the affected people of sufficient relief materials and rehabilitation. Despite the PM's directive to the authorities to execute the programmes to bail the crisis-ridden people out, corruption coupled with mismanagement at local level stands as a stumbling block. The spectre looms as it has during every such crisis in the past, and the flood victims this time also eagerly wait for the badly needed relief goods and rehabilitation drives. Flood waters have started receding, but the victims' sufferings have not. In this critical phase, the flood-hit people find themselves to be poised to engage in a fresh battle --- rehabilitation and fight against hazards like water-borne diseases and dysfunctional road communication. 

The current spate of flood has already been dubbed as having crossed the level of intensity of the 1988 deluge, which is called the deadliest of the floods the nation has ever experienced. Against the distressing backdrop of the absence of concerted efforts to alleviate the sufferings of the flood-hit millions, the anxieties of the people over an uncertain future are understandable. What might be adding to their feelings of desolation and helplessness is the lukewarm response of the local administrations to the flood-related ordeals. Prior to the Prime Minister's visit to the flooded northern region, few formal relief and rescue initiatives were found in place. With the situation deteriorating by the day, the affected people kept being disillusioned. A feeling of being left in the lurch may have overwhelmed a lot of these flood victims. How could it have been otherwise? The upazila administration in a flood-ravaged area has had to dole out between Taka 1.0 and Taka 4.0 and only fistfuls of rice a person as relief owing to an acute dearth of cash and relief goods. As the whole flood scenario has kept unfolding, its first phase in July has virtually left the victims to continue suffering in silence. None in the administration came forward with succour. Even the number of appeals from national-4level forums and socio-political and rights organisations to stand by the flood victims seemed negligible. The inaction of the local authorities appeared equally puzzling. It was only when the formerly localised radius of flooding eventually expanded to greater swathes, did the administrative apparatus begin to stir. By that time the floods have wrought havoc on the whole northern and northeastern regions and started to spill over to the central region.

The current spate of flood and excessive rainfall has made their onslaught on Bangladesh, Nepal and the eastern and northeastern India almost simultaneously. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies termed the calamity as a humanitarian crisis. Unlike tornadoes and cyclones, the damaging impact of floods continues to surface over a long-drawn-out period. Because of the lengthy period of duration, their fallout also keeps the affected people incapacitated for months in a row after the recession of the flood waters.

The recent flooding in Bangladesh makes itself distinctive with a number of hitherto unseen factors. One of them, of course, is the apparent apathy of the city people. With the Eid-ul-Azha festival only a week away, the city residents appear to be busy discovering the spots selling cheaper sacrificial animals. Perhaps they will find many such markets, as desperate flood victims might be compelled to sell at throwaway prices their only disposable resources --- their cows and goats. The money thus earned might help them start life from the scratch. This indifferent attitude of the better-placed segments of society towards the flood-affected and mostly agro-based poor people in villages has rarely been seen in the past. Even during the 1988 floods, the young people's tireless campaigns to collect relief materials through door-to-door visits amply spoke of unalloyed empathy. This nation was once used to post-natural disaster processions for fund raising by students and cultural activists in the larger cities. Alas, the newer generations are being brought up devoid of this fellow feeling and great virtue. Maybe, this is a pointer to the increasingly mundane bent of the people. The fast-changing nation has subconsciously bidden farewell to its Good Samaritan within.

shihabskr@ymail.com
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