A week after the devastating floods had struck Uttarakhand, I reached Parori village in Janpur Bloock of Tehri Garwal with my colleagues, to do an assessment of the ground situation and plan our relief and rehabilitation efforts in the area.
I stood among the ruins and took a sweeping view of the area. The wreckage that was around us was beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
Parori is situated along Aglad, a tributary of Yamuna River. The flash floods that struck in mid-June, gushed its way out through this lesser known stream swallowing up everything that stood on its way – houses, schools, paddy fields, shops – nothing of it remained!
One of residents was distraught with grief when she told me;
Out of 120 households in this area, only 80 remain. 40 of them lie totally flattened.
I asked around about the compensation being offered by the State. So far, only 10 out of the 40 households were informed of Rs. 100,000 compensation amount from the government. All the affected families have received Rs 5400.
While moving past the rubbles and climbing up the hill, we could see young and old men (and women) drudging through thick piles of wreckage, hoping to recover whatever they could from it.
Children are clearly most affected in this disaster. The primary school in the area was completely destroyed. It had close to 25 children studying here. All of them had lost their books. Their playground was now a pile of junk and concrete. Their parents were uncertain about admissions and the nearest school was atleast six miles away – a good hour’s walk through the tough terrains.
At the Joshimath relief camp, when we provided play materials to the kids, the delight on their faces was inexplicable. It was maybe their way of finding joy in grief.
All the water pipes that supply drinking water to Parori are broken and most people are complaining of high fever, skin allergies and dysentery. The highly contaminated river water is a cause of concern for the villagers. Essential medicines, like chlorine tablets are required to deal with the water-borne diseases.
There is a fresh-water source that is about a mile away. We are not sure if the government has any intention to lay pipes to this source.” One of the residents voiced his apprehension.
I was told that restoration of water supplies to this village will require an additional Rs.200,000.
What were once lush green fields of paddy are now buried under mud and silt. The agricultural land is lost several feet beneath this huge pile of sand, clay and concrete. The main crop they cultivated were potatoes, paddy and seasonal vegetables and their annual incomes were as high as Rs.15,000 per Nali (200 sq.metres of land).
The village is estimated to have lost atleast 10 acres (200 nali) of land in total, to the floods. That’s an immediate sink of Rs. 3,000,000 in their combined annual incomes. The government compensation per nali (200 sq.m) is as low as Rs.500, a laughable 3% of what they used to make every year!
The magnitude of damage here is terrible beyond anyone’s comfort. The pitiable compensation amounts being offered are signalling no viable rehabilitation either.
There are other difficulties too. Access to this village is severly limited as the roads have been completely washed away. This means relief materials reaching late or not reaching at all!
In one of our interactions, we were narrated instances of discrimination while distributing relief packages. The most vulnerable and marginalised of the population, like the Dalits, complained of receiving fewer or no packets. One of them told me,
The market area is mostly managed and run by people from powerful communities and they often tend to overlook our village
ActionAid India is at this point in time assessing the ground situation and planning our activities around both short-term and long-term needs of the locals. At the relief camps that we are running in Joshimath, we also supplied adolescent girls with innear wears and sanitary napkins. Their safety and privacy are at the top of our minds during the relief work. It is feared that young women, girls and children are vulnerable to human trafficking and we are keeping a close check on any suspicious activities in the area that we work in.
We are also working with the state in assessing the extent of land lost (both homestead and agricultural) and ways and means to restore it. It is a mammoth task and might take many months to bring the lives of the affected people back on track.
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