Stranded, on NH 57: Araria district residents set up tents on highway

Five-year-old Aabid Alam does not know why his family has suddenly shifted. He asks often about the others from his village, Kharaiya from Araria, which was submerged in the recent floods, forcing his parents to camp inside a makeshift tent on National Highway 57, between Araria and Forbesganj.

The Alams are one family among at least 2,000 people from several villages of Araria district, including Azadnagar, Omnagar, Damhaili, Godhi tola among others, who have set up makeshift tents along the highway since July 14, when floods began to affect large swathes of the state. In all, over 65,317 families of 391 villages have been affected by floods in Araria alone, according to the state’s disaster management department.

The one kilometre between Godhi Chowk and Toll Plaza is filled with young children like Aabid, and other families brought together in the devastation caused by the floods.

In the past four days, 12 of the 38 districts in Bihar, including Sitamarhi, Supaul, Muzaffarpur, and Madhubani, among others, have been flooded due to the overflowing Baghmati, Kamla Balan, Lalbakeya, Adhwara, and Mahananda rivers.

Chief minister, Nitish Kumar, told the state assembly on Tuesday that over 2.6 million people have been affected in all, and over 116,000 people are currently living in 221 camps across the districts.

At least 33 people have died in Bihar alone. Among them, 14 were from Araria.

In the rest of the north-east, including Assam, Mizoram, and Meghalaya, the death toll is only slightly higher and the floods, equally devastating.

Shamsoon, a resident of ward 11 of Araria town, who, too, has been living in a tent said, “Since Sunday we are here and our children are crying for milk but we can’t provide them any.”

Though the residents are being fed food cooked in a community kitchen maintained inside a government school close to the highway, and run by the local administration, there is a shortage of amenities.

Some, however, have managed to make do.

“We are lucky as we brought our gas cylinder, or it would have been tough to deal with the cries of children,” Mohammed Alam of Jahangir Tola of village said. “If you depend only on relief, you are sure to go without food for hours.”

The chief minister has promised relief of Rs 6000 to families starting today. For the first time, the money will be transferred directly into the bank accounts, through Direct Benefit Transfer systems. In all, six lakh families are expected to receive relief, Principal Secretary of the Disaster Management Department, Prataya Amrit, said.

But, money aside, several residents whom HT spoke to said that the real problem was the recurrence of this natural disaster.

In 2017, 19 districts of Bihar were flooded affecting hundreds of thousands, and 514 people died. In 2015, at least 165 died in floods that affected 20 districts, causing widespread damage to property and crop.

“Nobody likes passing their days and nights on roads and we are forced to do so [every year],” Mohammed Ezas, 45, a resident of Jahangir Tola said.

Many like Shakila, 45, of Damhaili village, pay a heavy price. Her husband, a migrant worker, had saved up money to build their home this year. “The house cost us Rs 40,000, but the floods must have caused extensive damage to it,” she said.

“We have lost all hope from the administration, as no official has so far visited us ever since we made our tents on the highway,” Jeevachh Yadav of Kharaiya village said.

However, not everyone was upset with the administration. Mohammed Samsuddin, 70, of Jagir Tola village said, “The local administration is doing what it can and we should also cooperate with them instead of blaming.”

Araria district magistrate, Baidyanath Yadav, claimed that the relief and rescue operation were being carried out on a war footing. “All flood victims will get assistance,” he said.

First Published:
Jul 18, 2019 23:05 IST

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