December , 2019
Ravaged and in need of relief
15:27 pm

Saptarshi Deb

There is a distinct sense of despair and helplessness around her as Renuka Acharjee comes out of her tarpaulin wrapped, devastated house. Remains of an uprooted electric pole lie at the far end of her property line. It’s been nearly a month that the cyclonic storm Bulbul ravaged her village, Gobardhanpur located at the far-flung G Plot Island in the Patharpratima Block of South 24 Parganas, West Bengal. Normalcy is yet to return.

Acharjee informed BE, “I would have died had I chosen to stay in this house. I had gone to a relative’s house on the day of the storm and when I came back the next morning, my house was completely destroyed. The asbestos roof was gone and the mud walls were also completely compromised.” As far as relief is concerned, Acharjee said that she had only received one tarpaulin sheet, pointing to a tattered black tarpaulin sheet fitted atop her ravaged home.

The cyclonic storm Bulbul had made landfall late on November 9 between Sagar Islands in West Bengal and Khepupara in Bangladesh. According to state government estimates, the state of West Bengal had incurred a loss of `23,811 crore in the devastations caused by the cyclone that has affected around 35 lakh people in three districts. According to many local residents, apart from the intensity of the storm, its long duration – around five hours – led to the widespread damage. Eye witnesses informed the intensity of the storm was such that heavy sheets of asbestos that were fixed as roofs were uprooted and thrown 100 feet away.

The village of Gobardhanpur has been one of the worst affected villages. Local resident Milan Mondal pointed out, “Out of around 350 families living in our village, 300 have been directly affected. One pucca house and around 50 mud houses have been destroyed. Electricity has been disrupted.”

Apart from the immediate devastation, the cyclone has severely hit the livelihood options in this outlying region. The rural economy is mostly based on agricultural cultivation and pisciculture. The storm has destroyed the paddy crops completely. Additionally, due to largescale deposition of uprooted trees and storm debris in ponds and pisciculture farms, most of the fishes have died. Mondal added, “We are now in deep trouble. With our houses damaged and our livelihood options hit badly, we don’t know what to do. Some governmental compensation is needed.”

Many of the villagers are using their meagre savings to procure material for their roofs. With the winter approaching, it would soon be too cold to live under tarpaulin sheets. Mondal informed, “It is unfortunate that even in these trying times, relief material is not being equally distributed. Certain individuals are being omitted by the local panchayat.”

Responding to this, Rathin Chandra Dey, Block Development Officer for Patharpratima informed BE, “The government has announced compensation for the farmers and we are conducting camps to receive applications from the same.”  However, no compensation package for housing has been made so far. After the storm, dysentery spread. Ruptured sewerage linkages and contaminated sources of drinking water can be identified as the main trigger points. Additionally, Mondal pointed out, “There has been an increase in the number of insects and mosquitoes around this region. We are in dire need of bleaching powder to control dysentery and we also need mosquito nets and repellents. We are yet to receive any of these things from the administration.”

This village is highly vulnerable to natural calamities. Located at the southern tip of the island, it is practically surrounded by the mighty Bay of Bengal. During Aila, this region was relatively less affected. However, the nearest flood relief centre to the Gobardhanpur village is around 16 kilometres away. It is a far cry for the administration to expect that villagers from the remote village will commute that distance during a natural calamity to find safe shelter. Apart from immediate delivery of relief materials, it is necessary for the administration to provide financial assistance to the affected families.

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