Nagaon, Assam – In two days, Krishna Bhadra went to his flooded home in Garmaj village of Nagaon district several times to rescue his family’s belongings after a sudden flood last week.
The family of four took shelter in a small government-owned building in Nagaon, 122km (76 miles) from the main city of Guwahati in India’s northeastern Assam state.
On Saturday, Krishna asked his wife Basanti to cook quickly so that he could eat and return to the village.
“He went to check that our house was completely damaged by the flood,” Basanti said. “He never came back.”
Police recovered Krishna’s body from the flooded family home on Sunday.
“He didn’t know how to swim. He probably slipped and drowned,” Ganesh Rai, his brother-in-law told Al Jazeera.
Krishna, a daily wage earner, was the only income earner in the family.
As many as 28 people have lost their lives and nearly a million residents have been affected as the pre-monsoon rains led to landslides and floods in parts of Assam.
‘Everything is under water’
Heavy rains earlier caused major damage to rail and highway links even as government officials said they were working on a “war footing” to restore connectivity and provide relief.
The Kopili river, a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra, is still flowing at the danger mark. The river reached its peak on May 17, passing through large parts of Hojai and Nagaon districts.
A report by the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) on Wednesday said that around 600,000 people in the 15 districts of the state are still affected by the floods while more than 72,000 are still in relief camps in south and central Assam. .
Hundreds more are living under tarpaulins on highways, railway tracks or any other high ground they can find even as the floods begin to recede.
Since early April, floods have affected 33 districts of Assam and about one million residents have had to move to relief camps, ASDMA officials said.
Several government agencies, including the National Disaster Response Force, the State Disaster Response Force, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force, were called in for help and rescue.
Assam Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Jogen Mohan on Tuesday evening said the “situation is under control”.
But the local people are still terrified and waiting to start rebuilding their lives.
“It was in 2004 when the water level was this high,” recalled Asar Ali, a watchman in Dighali Ati village.
Until May 19, Asar’s family of seven lived near the railway line under tin and tarpaulin tents he had borrowed from other villages. Houses on both sides of the roads are still under water as the residents are waiting for further assistance from the authorities.
“So far we have received two kilograms (four pounds) of rice, 200 grams (seven ounces) of lentils and one liter (about a quarter) of water from the local authority,” Asar told Al Jazeera.
Every day, Asar walks to the nearby village with a bucket so that the family can find clean water to drink.
Barkhal village in Morigaon district, Kushila Rajbhar is still waiting for tarmac from the local authority.
“Every time there is a flood, aid comes and we get tar and other things. This time we only got chura (flat rice), sugar, and biscuits,” Kushila told Al Jazeera, standing outside her flooded house.
Her small belongings, a few utensils and some clothes were on a black bag outside. Wet snow was spread on the road to dry.
Part of the flooded farm that the family rented was now submerged under floodwaters.
“There is no work going on for me as everything is under water. I have to look for a job to provide for my family,” says Rajbhar.
A senior government official described the floods as “shocking before today”.
The flood season in Assam usually starts after May 15. It is mainly during the monsoon that the many rivers that flow in the region, including the Brahmaputra and the Barak, are in many parts of the region.
Officials said heavy rains in Assam and neighboring areas between May 12 and 18 caused widespread damage in the hill district of Dima Hasao, Barak Valley in southern Assam and Nagaon and Hojai in central Assam.
ASDMA data shows that Assam received 327 percent excess rainfall during this period, while the neighboring state of Meghalaya saw 663 percent excess rainfall.
Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, an independent researcher based in Guwahati, said it was the heavy rains that have fallen since March this year that are showing the current damage.
“Any damage that occurred is not only because of the rain that fell in May but also because of the rain that fell in March which set the conditions for the heavy rain that fell to create more damage,” he said. Al Jazeera.
Between March 1 and May 25, Assam received 55 percent excess rainfall while neighboring Meghalaya received 122 percent excess rainfall as per IMD data.
“This kind of destruction is unprecedented,” said Daniel Langthasa, a member of the North Cachar Hill Self-Governing Council (NCHADC), which has legislative and executive powers in Dima Hasao, a tribal district and its only base. in the region.
“Haflong, the villages have come in,” Langthasa said.
The beautiful post office on the hill took the damage. Riki B Phukan, an ASDMA officer in Dima Hasao, said the district has seen more than 100 landslides since May 10. In Haflong district of the district, about 2,756 houses were damaged.
“We are yet to assess the damage in other parts as the roads have been damaged,” he said, adding that electricity has yet to be fully restored. Parts of the district have been without electricity since May 10.
The landslide also damaged National Highway 54, which cuts through Dima Hasao and the Lumding-Badarpur section of the Indian railway network that connects southern Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur.
“We are looking to restore the rail link by July 10,” said a spokesman for North Eastern Railway.
Mohan, Assam’s revenue and disaster management minister, said the highway has been restored up to Haflong. “Work is on a war footing to restore the damaged roads,” he said.
The state administration has asked the Indian Air Force to airlift critical supplies and fuel to inaccessible parts of the district. “As of Tuesday, 20 tons of fuel and food supplies have been transported,” said Ibon Teron, a senior district official.
Experts say that this extreme rain is rare and is a clear sign of climate change.
“Such extreme rainfall and catastrophic flooding affecting more than half of the geographical area of the state is rarely seen,” said Partha Jyoti Das, head of the Water, Climate and Hazards Division of the Aaranyak, a Guwahati based NGO.
“This is clearly a signature of climate change affecting the northeastern region which is expected to receive high rainfall, often and all.”
Experts say it is futile to blame climate change alone and that non-climate factors have exacerbated the flood situation. Rahman explains how environmental concerns have been ignored as infrastructure projects have been pushed into the region.
“The rationale behind building infrastructure was to improve economic connectivity. But at the same time, it was disrupting environmental connectivity. If you don’t put environmental connectivity at the heart of economic connectivity projects, all such projects end up fail on climate change,” Rahman told Al Jazeera.
Dima Hasao is one of the districts of Assam that has recently seen many major infrastructure projects, including extensive rail links, roads and highways.
Das described the dire situation of flooding as degradation and wrong land use practices have increased river silt even as structural measures and encroachment on core watersheds have caused channel congestion.
ASDMA chief Gyanendra Dev Tripathi said the government is working on a multi-pronged strategy to deal with floods. He explained how the early warning system has been updated to ensure that residents are alerted at the right time.
The government has also established community centers in some districts, which will serve as relief camps during floods and community gathering places during normal times. A lot is being built.
The state government has selected 100 villages to test climate-resilient infrastructure, including raised houses, and proper water and sanitation systems.
But experts say that the government needs to do more. “They are trying to reduce the risks of flooding by using outdated and temporary measures like mud embankments,” Das said.
“Non-structural measures like catchment and water management and flood forecasting and flood early warning etc., have never been taken seriously,” he said, adding that Assam needs a “time-bound action plan”. with an advanced and adaptive integrated flood and erosion management policy”.