Disaster mismanagement: How, following floods, Bihar’s marginalized sections faced discrimination

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The National Dalit Watch, the National Campaign on Dalit human Rights, the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch and the Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan has released its report, “Bihar Floods 2017: Immediate Needs Assessment and Inclusion Monitoring of Responses towards Affected Dalits, Minorities & Adivasis in Araria and Kishanganj”.  Excerpts:

In the mid of August, when nation was planning to celebrate its 70th independence day and waiting for joy and happiness, the State of Bihar has faced severe flood due to deep depression over Bay of Bengal with the heavy rain brought the sadness to. The heavy rains from 10-14th august and flood waters have stranded the life for almost 15 days.

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Due to disability, I was trapped in flood waters for three days without any rescue service: Mangal Soren, Khandkhadiya village, Kishanganj district

The disaster affected population of 27.60 lakh in 314 panchayats of Araria and Kishanganj in which 120 people have lost their lives. The flood rendered lakhs hungry and homeless, flattened thousands of mud houses and kuccha houses , orphaned and dislocated many more. Life is hard for a majority of the affected population. Death, disease, hunger, deprivation, dispossession, distress migration and constant poverty are now stalking them relentlessly.

Government machinery even with its best intention of providing relief and rescue to everyone have failed to provide relief to downtrodden communities. Cases of neglect of food by helicopter team, no response from DM and BDO Kishanganj over the phone to villagers of Kishanganj, Giving Rs 1,500 to a woman as compensation for death of her husband by mukhiya, leaving disabled people, pregnant women etc. stranded in flood waters for 5-6 days, and many more such evidences, give a gruesome picture of Bihar disaster management. Dalits, Minorities and Adivasi population, which are more dependent on state agencies, are still waiting for their dignified share.

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Husband died as no rescue services were available: Sayeema Khatoon, village Pakawari, Kishanganj district

As many as 2451 households from 40 villages across six blocks of Kishanganj were surveyed to assess impact of the 2017 flood in terms of loss to life, property and livelihoods. Among the families participated for individual survey, more than half (53.4%) of the population belongs to BPL category, 10.5% were from APL, and about 7.5% were Antyodaya card holders. As many as 844 (34.4%) respondents were from Scheduled Caste (SC), 729 (29.7%) were Muslim’s and 10.5% or 256 were Scheduled Tribes (ST)..

Main sources of livelihood for the families interacted during the process are agriculture and daily wage labour work. About 25% of the families covered depend on agriculture for survival. As many as 1,530 families, approximately two-thirds, were primarily daily wage labourers, of which 36.2% were SC, 7.5% ST and 30% were from minority community.

About 611 families lost their 2,485.9 Bigha (approx. 994.34 acre) agricultural land due to submergence. This has a huge adverse impact on the food security of the families concerned until the next favourable cropping season. Almost half, about 49%, of the land belongs to SC community, 29% to the minorities, 21% to OBCs and 7% belongs to the ST community. A rough estimate of monitory equivalent suggests an average loss of Rs. 7000 per bigha with a cumulative loss of approximately Rs 1.51 crore.

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Government left us to live on bamboo platform: Panchhi Devi, village Barag Koshkapur, Arariya district

For obvious reasons, there is a huge loss of labour days during floods. A rough estimate, as reported by the community, as many as 1,981 families has suffered cumulative loss of over 31,000 days, which is equivalent to Rs 1.09 crore.

Bihar confronts flood every year since ages. But still lack of preparedness costs human lives and loss of livestock. Based on the small sample covered during the process loss of 105 human lives were reported. Of these maximum 71 members belong to minority community, 17 people were from schedule caste community.

Also, there is a huge loss due to death and loss of livestock during flood. Approximately 13,000 livestock, which includes Cow, Goat, Buffalo, Pig and others, have been lost in 2017 floods by the community covered during the study. Table-2 below presents social group wise distribution of loss sustained by different social groups due to loss of livestock.

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Dominant caste people threw food meant for relief, instead of serving us: Panavati Devi, Parihari village, Arariya district

Most of the members have sustained loss on the count of damage to their houses or dwellings. There are as many as 1,079 families reported who have sustained loss due to loss of their thatched dwellings. Of these 33% and 36% families belong to SC and minority communities respectively. About 1,262 people have sustained losses on the count of damage to the structure of their kaccha houses due to submergence.

A cumulative loss of stock of above 3,000 quintals of food grains was reported by the community people, which mainly include wheat, rice and pulses.

Almost one out of every two household has reported spending money for treatment of family members for illness caused due to unhygienic living conditions and insufficiency of food during flood. A rough estimate suggests that these community members have sustained an extra burden of approximately Rs 28.75 lakh on medical treatment.

Other losses include loss of household utensils, furniture, important documents which attracts an opportunity cost for getting another copy of it, valuables and also liquid money. Overall, the other losses were estimated to be around Rs 4.18 crore, as per estimates presented by the community people. During the discussion in villages and interaction with communities, the team found that not a single village received early warning from any of the government agencies. In Kishanganj and Araria used private boats, walked an average of 2-3 km for safer locations, i.e highways, schools etc. In this serious condition villagers had to pay for private boats or other services to get them out from the flooded villages.

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Twenty women from Mahadalit communities had to live without any support post-disaster: village Fulwari, Kishanganj district

Due to lack of money and socio-economic condition, most of the Dalits, minorities and marginalized families had difficulties in coming out from the marooned villages. Due to non-availability of rescue services, pregnant mothers, elderly, children and disabled family faced additional difficulties and are still facing major difficulties. In some the places in Araria, boats had been placed, but was mainly used by panchayat members and people from dominant castes. Due to lack of rescue services most of the families have stranded and lived in the flood waters for an average of 4-5 day.

Contrary to the claims of the Government of Bihar, the team found that very few surveyed villages had shelter facilities. Lack of proper shelter led the communities to ramin stranded in flood waters for an average of 3-4 days. In Kishanganj and Araria, the team found that the nearest safer shelter place which was announced was far away from the villages and it was really difficult for the villagers to go there without any proper transportation services. Out of 63 villages surveyed, very few villages received immediate shelters in form of relief camps. Adivasi people from Bihar Tola village in Kishanganj had to walk 4 km away from their village on highway, where they stayed for 7 days. In provision of shelter and its arrangements, the Dalit communities got excluded.

Click HERE to download report

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