By Subatra Biswas
On the first week of August in the southern part of West Bengal, a state in eastern India, the rains started streaming from the sky and did not stop. The fields, once full of crops, are now full of water. Triangle tops of houses and electric poles are the only features that can be seen for miles and miles.
“We have lost everything,” Niyati Bagh, 62, told me when I visited the region to document the damage that Cyclone Komen had inflicted. She had just returned to her family’s shelter in the Singapur village in the district of Paschim Medinipur in West Bengal after spending six days at a flood relief camp with her only son, Biswanath Bagh, 45, and daughter-in-law, Sandharani Bagh, 42. The recent flood had washed away almost all of their belongings and knocked down walls and doors, leaving behind only a fragile skeleton of a house.
The death toll has reached 125 as the cyclone continues to harass West Bengal. It not only triggered high tides and heavy rains but overflowed the dams as well. The Damodar Valley Corporation, which operates a handful of hydroelectric power plants on the Damodar River—often known as the “River of Sorrow” because of frequent flooding—released 95,000 cubic feet of water per second on August 3.
“We somehow managed to escape from the high tide and took shelter at the local primary school,” said Gorachand Chakraborty, 65, who lives in the west of Paschim Medinipur. “We had no time to carry or protect our belongings as the floodwater engulfed the lands quickly.”
According to officials from India’s National Disaster Management Authority, the flood affected more than ten million people, damaged 743,000 houses, and destroyed over three million acres of crops. Yet there are only 2,700 relief camps for nearly 500,000 marooned villagers. “We are trying to do our best to reach the affected interior areas to distribute food, drinking water pouches, and medicines,” a disaster management team member told me. Over two weeks have passed, but the situation remains unchanged in the flooded districts, mainly because of the high tide and the release of water from various dams. According to the locals, it is the worst flooding in 15 years.
SUBRATA BISWAS is a freelance photographer from India. He has worked as a photojournalist with the Hindustan Times in New Delhi. For more of his work, visit www.subratabiswas.com.