Assam’s flood victims are turning beggars

June 22nd, 2008 - 10:28 am ICT by IANS  

By Maitreyee Boruah
Guwahati, June 22 (IANS) Displaced from their homes and hearths, the victims of Assam’s devastating annual floods end up begging on the streets for a living, a new survey says. The first-of-its-kind attempt to quantify the number of homeless living on the footpaths of Guwahati has revealed that as many as 1,500 flood victims from across the state have made them their home in the last three years.

The Society for Social Transformation and Environment Protection (SSTEP), an NGO working for the homeless, conducted the survey.

It found that of the 2,000 pavement dwellers registered with them, a majority were flood victims while the remaining were elderly people or physically or mentally challenged people.

They include women, children and unemployed youth.

“We fear that after the havoc created by flash floods in Assam (earlier this month), the number of pavement dwellers will increase in the city in the coming days. After losing their homes and agricultural land in the floods, most of the survivors come to Guwahati to earn a livelihood but end up on the streets,” SSTEP founder member Sattar Choudhury told IANS.

Official figures indicate that 10 people have been killed in the current floods in Assam, while close to 500,000 people have been displaced.

The worst hit is North Lakhimpur district where 20 villages have been inundated by the floodwaters. Overall, 378 villages in Assam have been affected.

“Floods are not new to Assam. They are a perennial problem. But the sheer apathy on the part of the government and the lack of preparedness sees many lives and homes destroyed year after year,” rued Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya, an adviser to the all-powerful All Assam Students’ Union (AASU).

“Though the government arranges temporary relief camps for the victims every year, this is not enough. There is no permanent solution to compensate their losses,” he added.

Last year, 50,000 people were displaced across the state because of floods.

“Even last year’s victims are still languishing in relief camps. Most of these camps are in pathetic conditions and have no facilities for human existence,” said a senior leader of Assam’s main opposition party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

The SSTEP survey clearly indicates that flood victims who have lost their homes and source of income that is mostly agricultural eventually land up in Guwahati to seek an alternative source of income. Some manage to eke out a living while others don’t.

“They come to the city penniless and are left with no other option but to live on the streets and to beg to eat,” said Choudhury.

Sukleshwar Ghat, Guwahati railway station, Kamakhya gate station, Fancy Bazar, Panbazar, Ulubari, Ganeshguri, Bhangagarh, Christianbasti and Bharalumukh are among the favourite haunts of Guwahati’s pavement dwellers.

“We are sure that flood victims from different villages of Assam are also resettling in towns like Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Nagaon and Tezpur to find a home and a source of earning. We are soon going to conduct a survey in other parts of the state to discover their numbers,” Choudhury said.

“Once we have the exact figures with us, we will pressurise the government to rehabilitate these flood victims,” Choudhury added.

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