Odisha floods leave villagers high & dry, govt slow to help

Odisha floods
Women wading through through to collect drinking water in Angarapada village in Odisha’s Khordha district

From early morning, Sushama Behera, 72, has been busy cleaning her thatched house, which, like the rest of the village, had been in waist deep water for almost three days. Her 80-year-old husband is also doing some cleaning job at the back of the house.

“We had tea and biscuit in the morning. Now we are tired and hungry. But the earthen chullah and firewood wet, I don’t know if we can have lunch — rice and curry — today,” Sushama a resident of Angarapada, under Turintira panchayat of Balipatna block in Odisha’s Khordha district, complains.

Otherwise, she’s happy as flood waters have receded from her house. However, a majority of the residents of her village are still in knee deep water. Left with no option, the villagers along with their cattle have come out to the pucca road on the canal embankment, where they have spent four nights.

Due to submerged roads, travelling is a dangerous affair. The students, including Sushama’s tenth grader grand-daughter Subhashree, can’t go to school.

“If there is no further rain, it will take at least four-five days for the water to recede. The problem is that every inch of the area is marooned,” says ward member, Sukanta Behera.

There is also the fear of snakes. One person is undergoing treatment for snakebite while a goat bitten by a venomous snake has perished.

Angarapda, home to 125 families of which 80 are SCs, is just 35 km from Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar. Many houses with mud and bamboo walls and thatched roofs have been razed to the ground. Locals say although majority of them belong to be BPL category, only a few benefited from the government’s housing scheme meant for the poor.

Odisha floods
A woman carries her child through water

With little landholdings of their own, the residents grow paddy on fields on sharing basis. This year, though, their hope of a harvest has been washed away. In most places around the six affected panchayats of Balipatna block, water levels are so high that it’s difficult to imagine that these are paddy fields.

Paddy apart, they grow vegetables. That’s gone too. A number of betel vines have been struck badly as well. “We earn around one lakh rupee from the betel vine. I can’t tolerate seeing its condition today,” cries Kalindi Bhoi’s wife Minati.

However, they are better than some others. A kilometre away, some families are still cut off from the outside world. They can be reached by a boat. The water depth has come down to 4 feet from 8 feet, the locals say.  Same is the case of Tinkipada and 10 other villages under the adjoining panchayats.

Almost every year, these residents of Angarapada and neighboring villages experience floods caused by the Dhanua (river).  “The situation wasn’t as bad, before,” recalls a senior citizen.

Turintira panchayat’s sarpanch Nita Rani Mallik has been at the forefront from day one of the floods, August 15. She, with the support of locals, distributed dry rations which included stuffed rice, sugar and biscuit packets meant for children.

Despite the odds, they fed cooked food to 500 people for three days. “It was possible because of the village youths. They not only kept a watch on the well-being of the affected ones, but cooked and distributed meals,” Nita Rani says.

A woman moves through flooded area in her village

She informed that a medical team has visited the area and bleaching powder is expected to arrive in a day. The block authorities and local MLA and Bhubaneswar BJP MP Aparajita Sarangi too had been there.

Meanwhile, two tankers were seen carrying drinking water to Angarpada. Though the villagers praised the sarpanch’s effort, they complained over lack of government support.

“Around 40 villages under six panchayats of Balipatna block have been massively impacted. The Block Development Officer (BDO) has written to the respective panchayat heads to ensure cooked food or dry ration among the affected families from the panchayat fund,” Balipatna MLA Arabinda Dhali tells The Federal.

“I have requested the sub collector, BDO, Tehsildar as well as authorities in agriculture and animal husbandry departments to provide necessary support to the people and for their animals,” the senior BJD leader, Dhali, adds.

However, he concedes that in places some sarpanches have failed to carry out their jobs for political reasons. “It’s essential to make permanent solution to the problem caused by the Dhanua in this area for over 6 decades. In the past I had raised the issue in the Assembly. I will meet the concerned minister and hopefully the job will be taken up soon,” he assures.

Twelve districts of the coastal state are in the grip of flood fury caused by incessant rainfall and the release of water from the Hirakud dam. Situation in a few districts has improved. However, approximately over 7 lakh people have been affected with 5 lakh marooned in 763 villages.

At the time of filing of this report, as more difficulties stared at Balasore and Mayurbhanj districts, the administration had carried out a massive evacuation drive in low-lying areas. Fifty-eight rescue teams comprising personnel of the NDRF, ODRAF and Fire Service were deployed. Water level in Subarnarekha, Budhabalang, Jalaka and Baitarani was rising.

The rivers swelled following Friday’s (20 August) rains induced by a deep depression and subsequent discharge of water from Galudih barrage in Jharkhand.

While flood water had entered low-lying areas of Balasore district’s Bhograi and Baliapal blocks, the situation remained grim in some other areas. Last year, both the blocks had suffered massively by the cyclone Yash.

The worst sufferers are women, children and the senior citizens. Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) Pradeep Jena has written to the collectors of 10 flood-hit districts asking them to make it sure that girls and women in marooned villages get sanitary pads.

“Proper medical care along with sanitation measures is essential for women/girls who are marooned due to flood. Hence, you are requested to kindly instruct CDMO to procure sanitary/hygienic as emergency sanitation measures (emergent relief) and distribute to women/girls in the marooned areas. The cost of such expenditure shall be borne by SRC out of SDRF,” the letter said.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted a fresh spell of rainfall activity on August 23 and 24 in Balasore, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts.