Update From the Field: Assam Floods.

Posted by Fiona McAlpine on
On the 14th of April, the second day of the Assamese calendar, our village was hit by a massive earthquake, the source of which was hundreds of kilometers away over the Burmese border. Who knew that we would be ringing in the new year with such a massive shake?

Local sirens went off, and all the old ladies of the village started to give uroli from their front yards (a traditional warning call). As the aftershocks subsided, loud thunder cracked over the village, the sky went black, and heavy rain fell down upon us. The next day was clear, but little did we know of the real storm that was about to hit.

We celebrated the first two days of the Bihu festival with as much pomp and joy as always, but every night the rain showered down hard. A week after Bihu, a hail storm wiped out the electricity supply for the village. As we waited in our houses, the electricity company told us the transmitters were badly damaged. It took three days for them to restore power, while the rain unrelentingly fell, and the villagers continued to wait.

The rain continued to pour until all we could see was water. It was like looking out at the ocean, the land endlessly covered by water.

The cause:

Lakwa is one of the most underdeveloped villages in upper Assam. Like many of the villages in this area, it is home to many outlawed ex-militants, which is a large part of the reason it is so underdeveloped. Due to the presence of the ex-liberation army members, the Indian government seldom administers aid to Lakwa, even when it is sorely needed. The villages have sustained themselves for years, with some assistance from the oil and coal companies that operate there.

The village is also accustomed to haphazard planning, where building and planting is done with little consideration of where the rainwater or streams would flow if the dam were to break. There is no proper rain catchment infrastructure or man-made streams to assist the passage of water. As we have seen over the past fortnight, relentless rain has caused both rivers - the Sophrai and the Disang - to overflow. The embankments have suffered severe damage, as has the old dam (the only real flood break). 

The villagers:

Lakwa is well known for the Gor made by the Ahom King. Gor is a manmade wall built in ancient times to protect or isolate a village. The raised road into Lakwa is made from Gor, and is the highest point in the village. Those who have been forced from their homes are camping out on the Gor road. The ex-militant camp, the Srishti NGO centre and the Buddhist Monastery have all opened their grounds and buildings for those seeking shelter.

Schools have been closed since the rain started, and the hospital is under water. Doctors have set up temporary clinics on the road, taking shelter under plastic covers and in cars. People are starting the get fever and diarrhea due to water contamination. The village has done as much as it can in terms of medical support, and applications have been dropped for medical relief from the government.

Groups working together:

In realising that the government assistance will, if ever, take a long to time arrive, the main groups within the village have come together to keep everyone safe and secure while the storms continue to hit. These groups are doing everything they can to protect the villagers of Lakwa.

Lakwa has constantly been ignored by the government and has been exploited over generations for its rich resources of oil, natural gas and tea. With a drop in the ocean of reinvestment back into the community, the government could ensure the embankment is rebuilt by community leaders, and the village could have the water catchment infrastructure it so desperately needs. 

What next:

It is believed that if the embankment of Lakwa cannot be fixed, then the village will remain under water into the coming monsoon, and possibly in perpetuity. The villagers are at a standstill, and can do nothing but wait, and help one another through this difficult time. If Lakwa is lost, large families will be displaced, and the homes of many will remain destroyed. Many of these families were displaced by the armed conflict, and are again being displaced by forces of nature. This is the most catastrophic flood that the village has ever experienced. We need your help.


This article was written by Khamseng Bohagi, longterm field intern and translator for The Fabric Social. 

How you can help:

If you would like to make a donation to the flood relief fund, click here.  Funds will be distributed to community mobilisers working to distribute direct aid, and to compensate TFS weavers for lost work. 

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