Overcast sky scares me

Rangapur, Jhapa 30 August 2017 - For an 85-year-old Sandhwaj Sundas, the August 13 flood was quite an unthought-of incident. Sundas, who was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the flood, time and again said that it was quite unexpected.

A resident of Jhapa Rural Municipality ward no. 3 Rangapur, Uraobasti, Sundas said that he and his frail wife had to flee to a neighbor’s house for safety during midnight on 13 August when the swollen Thulo Mai and Biring rivers flooded his house.

When he saw his house submerged and the water level rising, he thought that that was the last day of his life. “The flood came as a wave. I had neither seen such a flood in my life nor imagined. I thought that I will no lover remain alive. It was the end of my life,” said Sundas.

He said that he was completely perplexed when his house was flooded and gave up hope for life. Why the flood took him by surprise is that the octogenarian had never witnessed such a massive flood in his life and he had taken it for granted that his house was above enough for water level to rise.

Like other downstream residents, Sundas also ignored the flood alert. He had got a message on his mobile phone at 10:00 on 13 August of an imminent flood in the rivers. He and his family took it so simply that the water would not rise to the level of their house.

12 people from his village had been trained in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency preparedness including an early warning system. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Nepal and its local implementing partner Social Network for Justice and Development had supported to form Disaster Management Committee (DMT) and raised awareness on DRR, emergency and response.

Despite the efforts of the organizations, the community people simply took it for granted that their settlement would not be affected by the flood in the two rivers. Sabitri Hemram, Chair of Rangapur DMT, establishes the community assumption.

“We had received alert message since 8 August on possible floods. We also received message at 10:00 pm on 13 August. But we assumed that our settlement would not be flooded as it had never been affected by the flood. We thought that the flood could not be of such a magnitude,” she acknowledged.

Although the flood did not cause any human casualty, it badly affected the life and livelihood of the people as they lost their food stock, clothes, utensils and other household effects. Most of them lost their houses, domestic animals and poultry. Sundas lost his food stock, chickens, duck, rice, oil, clothes and other household effects including kitchen utensils.

In the aftermath of the cataclysm, the DMT and some other organizations distributed puffed rice, instant noodles and plastic sheets.

Since many domestic animals and fowls have been killed by the flood, the settlement is facing the wafting of stench of the carcasses. Since houses and toilets have been destroyed by the flood, people fear the outbreak of epidemic and face stench.

“It has been very difficult to live in this place because of stench of carcasses and open defecation. So we fear that an epidemic will break out here,” said Sundas adding, “Therefore we request the governmental and non-governmental organizations to support us to build toilet and resume drinking water supply.”

While his wife Pampha Sundas, an 84-year-old woman who has turned frail, was much fearful than her husband. Following the unprecedented flood, she has been disturbed. “These days I am afraid of thunder. If the sky is overcast, I cannot sleep at all. If there is another such flood, I can’t runaway to save my life,” she grieved.   

Story by Ram Sharan Sedhai and photo by Yogendra Gurung, LWF Nepal.