Stories From Flood Hit Assam and Meghalaya That The Mainstream Media Won’t Tell You

Posted on September 30, 2014 in Environment, Society

By Mayank Jain:

In the hullaballoo of Prime Minister’s visit to the US, the UN climate change summit and a million other things, mainstream media conveniently forgot to deliver us the ‘news’- not PR features or opinions, but reports of actual happenings in the country. When the Kashmir floods hadn’t even abated, two more states were struck with devastating floods which went absolutely unnoticed in the mainstream discourse. One can attribute the missing glare to a lot of things including a rather eventful week in terms of TRP opportunities, but the constant ignorance of some parts of the country can never be veiled in such excuses.

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The floods struck some areas of Assam and Meghalaya owing to heavy rainfall which subsequently led to havoc in the underprepared regions. As reported by people on the ground, the authorities never sprang to action any time soon when the disaster hit and most of the relief work became another PR opportunity; hogwash in the eyes of general populace.

Current Situation: Lives and Property Lost

The flash floods which struck Meghalaya after torrential rains and a reported cloudburst resulted in landslides which took a huge toll on life and property in the state that also receives the most rainfall in the country. These floods have been called the ‘worst in recent times’ by common people as well as organizations working on ground. The cloudburst struck Garo Hills first and then the water flowed down to nearby areas, putting life on hold.

As reported by The Indian Express: “Official figures have indicated that 52 persons lost their lives, mostly in the Garo Hills region, and properties including road, houses, livestock and agriculture worth about Rs 2,000 crore got damaged,” Deputy Chief Minister Roytre C Laloo is quoted as saying.

The situation in Meghalaya is fast coming back to normal, according to government sources at least. But a conversation with Namratha, who hails from the affected Tura region in the state revealed otherwise.

“Government has not done anything real yet. CM took one aerial visit and flood camps were set up for just one day after that. There are no big organizations helping either, as if nobody cares. Only people coming up to help are local volunteers,” she told us.

It is clear that there are plenty of problems on ground and relief work is falling way short of the requirements due to zero or no media attention as well as the public apathy towards the disaster in these two states.

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Assam on the other hand has been reeling under the similar floods which have ended up claiming lives in up to 6-7 districts and the death toll has been reported to have climbed upwards of 45 in the official figures.

Struggles of People: Waiting for Help since Weeks

Unlike flash floods caused due to natural disturbances, these floods were reported as common yearly events by those in affected areas. They, however, expressed disillusion and detest against the ineffective government machinery which has ended up ostracizing them in this terrible situation.

In my personal investigation, Anupam, a doctor from Assam’s affected district, shared his own set of problems in providing relief. He has been doing his flood duty for the last 3 weeks and he reports acute shortage of medicine as well as medical staff. According to him, there have been casualties in 25 villages around him and he is the only one catering to the population of over 31000. Over the phone, he expressed angst against lack of coverage and inaction of the organizations as well, since only community leaders and some units of the Army appear to be helping right now.

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“The government and authorities have been at the fault here. There were no warning signals and they don’t do any preventive action. There’s an acute shortage of drugs. I am working in 31 villages but there seems to be no official help for us to get more staff or medicines. There’s only one highway for the entire district and it is flooded. The railway is not working either. Boats and ferries are the only way to commute but we are soon running out of those means too,” he reported.

“Only Families Care about their Own”

A little digging up about relief efforts revealed the significant apathy that exists in the areas outside those that are affected. There are hardly any initiatives to help out on the ground, and those sending aid are only those whose family and friends are stuck in the disaster.

One such lady, Julien, whose family is stuck in Meghalaya right now, told us about her misery:

“My whole family is stuck in the Chengalma area near Bajong, Meghalaya. The internet is erratic and phone communication is dependent on spotting an aid worker who can establish contact. There is acute shortage of food supplies, clothing, and blankets since winters have started there already. We are trying to send baby food, medicines and other supplies on our own since the Meghalaya House and ministers in the government never responded in time.”

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Within this widespread panic, she has been able to collect some contributions and sent the first contingent of relief aid through a train today itself, but the mode of transport is slow and it might be days before it reaches them. Airlines haven’t agreed yet to airlift the aid and deliver to the affected regions; they are trying hard for it.

Here’s How You Can Help

Right now, the most important way one can help out the flood relief efforts in both the states is through spreading information and building communication channels. More buzz about it will mean media coverage which will transform into action from authorities. Individually however, you can contribute to the following initiatives:

Contribute to Goonj’s flood relief efforts here.

You can also check the near-real time requirements, drop off information, and collection centres being updated on the Citizens Disaster Response Force here or on the Twitter handle here.

On ground reports on Assam floods are also being posted on this Facebook page.

You can also sign the petition to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to help airlift aid for affected regions here.

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