It was supposed to be a good day for Nepurun Begum. The 50-year-old maid had worked extra hard in the last three months, hoping to please her family on Eid. She has a son and a daughter. They are 25 and 17 years respectively. They are both physically challenged and ever since her husband passed away, 15 years ago, she has been the sole earner of her family.
It was Eid and she wanted her children to eat something rich for a change. She had managed to cook their favourite dishes, a rarity, considering the amount of time she is forced to spend cleaning other homes. Unfortunately, the sudden floods that hit Moulvibazar during Eid, destroyed her house, situated near the Manu river, and everything that she had strived for.
“That house was the only thing I had. I had inherited very little land from my father and it took me many years to build this house. And now it's gone. I have no other option but to depend on relief now,” says a distraught Nepurun.
Like Nepurun, many others had to suffer a similar fate during Eid as the villages in the Manu and Dhalai river basin areas were affected by sudden floods. Over two lakh people were affected as 25 points of the embankment of the Manu and Dhulai rivers were broken by the flood waters during Eid. From the fields to markets and roads, everything was marooned.
Since most of the people living in the region are dependent on agriculture, they currently have no means of earnings and are forced to live in shelters and depend on relief provided by the government. In fact, Nepurun was one of the lucky few. She didn't die.
A total of eight people were killed because of the floods in Moulvibazar. Several of these dead bodies were recovered on the morning of Eid.
Problems, for the ones who received shelter, didn't just end after Eid. They need a way out and as a result, most of them are being exploited by local moneylenders and many are also being forced to commit as labourers for advanced projects.
“What celebrations? We can barely survive, forget celebrating Eid,” exclaims 55-year-old Jewel Mia, a farmer who used to live near the Monu river in the Kulaura Upazila . “My four sons want new clothes and all I can do is stay quiet,” he adds.
46-year-old Jomshed Mia, had to suffer a double whammy. “At first because of the early rains, I lost my summer harvest. Despite that, I thought I would be able to survive with the Aus paddy. But even that got washed away by this flood, and now I don't have anything else to depend upon,” he explains.
Jomshed's neighbour Royes Mia explains that this is the second time in 15 years that he will have to restart his life. “I was affected by the floods in 2004 and I hoped that I would never have to suffer again. But here we are. My family and I are anxious again, just like in 2004,” he says.
Last year, around this time, most of the farmers managed to earn around Tk 500 to 600 every day by working on the field. In a span of just a year though, the lives of the people in this area have changed drastically.
The other problem that has surfaced is the kind of treatment that the victims in the shelters are receiving. There are thousands of families there, but because of the unprecedented nature of the disaster, the government is yet to catch up.
For a number of days, many living on the embankments of Kulaura's Sharifpur are surviving on just puffed rice and water that may not necessarily be safe. Their daily ration, as disappointing as it is, is running out and a lot more support is required. As per the last visit, around a 100 families from Itarghat, Kalairchar and Chariarghat villages of Sharifpur are living on the dam of Manu River.They are held marooned, cramped with fowls and cows and goats.
“We have lost all hopes in the administration and are just waiting for the floodwater to recede,” says Paulush Topno, resident of Palkicherra tea garden and former headmaster of Palkicherra primary school. “I was prepared for this,” he adds.
Maolana Amir Uddin Kashem, president of Al-Ihsan Islami Jubo Sangha, a local youth welfare organisation echoes Paulush's sentiments. “We never realised that floodwater would come at such speed. Our houses are submerged under waist-deep water and we are at the mercy of god,” he says, while sitting on one of the embankments.
In order to support the victims, the government has taken relatively swift steps. The army has joined in the rescue as well. However, with the monsoons still hovering, the question remains, have these families, who have already suffered a lot, seen the last of their sufferings?
Mintu Deshwara is The Daily Star’s Sylhet Correspondent.