With more than 8 lakh cusec water being released from the Hathinikund Barrage in Haryana earlier this Monday August 19, the Yamuna swelled past the danger mark of 204.5 metres. The Delhi Government announced a flood alert and families from the floodplain were evacuated. They were then moved to makeshift tents the authorities set up in nearby areas.
The Wire recently visited these settlements to find out the conditions and experiences of the people residing there.
Previously residing in juggi-jhopdis (temporary, run-down settlements) they were asked to relocate to an area near Mayur Vihar in East Delhi. Makeshift settlement camps were set up under the Delhi Noida Direct (DND) Flyway or some boarded with the residents of the nearby Chilla Village.
While the Yamuna regularly floods during this season as a result of the water being released from the mountainous regions, this time the added water from the Barrage went above all previous records.
With families ranging from four to fourteen members, generations have been seen re-settling into makeshift tents.
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The people were recorded moving their possessions in carts and herding cattle in a flurry of movement. When asked, a rather young boy lugging behind himself a cycle-driven cart responded that the river water increased quite rapidly since the morning, instead of gradually rising. Even with the annual floods, they had never been made to relocate before.
Their main focus is to quickly pack up stuff that is often relatively expensive and something they cannot afford to lose to the floods. Apart from their belongings, they manage to salvage some fodder for their cattle and goats to feed on, as well as some firewood to fuel their earthen-stoves (chulha).
Unlike what one would assume with this excess water, this actually proved to present a major water scarcity crisis. This is due to the reason that these waters bring along with them a lot of sediment, in the form of rocks, dirt, organic waste, and other forest-tree parts that have been uprooted; something Delhi’s two major pumping stations cannot handle.
Food prices have also been predicted to rise as the previous agricultural land and farms, which produced vegetables and other grains, have now been put to waste. These communities who have been living in the flood plains for decades consist of small time traders and sellers, often travelling in different directions to sell their produce such as okra (bhindi), cowpeas (lobiya), chilis, etc.
Women work in areas such as Pandav Nagar as scrap or junk dealers and collectors. There is a clear class dimension as one of the ladies refers to those “bigger men” they sell this scrap to, who would otherwise refer to some of their prized possessions as ‘trash’.
Some of them are the sole breadwinners of their family and support their children’s education and livelihood. Females especially, are rarely seen involved in studies; more often than not their education qualification ceases at the 2nd standard. They work as seamstresses and tailors for the village itself, earning about 300-400 rupees a month.
Educational progress is most evident among the younger generations. Girls talk about how they still went to their schools on the day of the evacuation and even participated in kho-kho matches in the nearby ‘Sports Complex’, bagging the first place. Their concerns are also slightly different as they talk about the water logged in the nearby areas which act as a breeding ground for various insects like mosquitoes. The constant ongoing flow of traffic also adds to the pollution levels of the area.
One of the elderly residents of Chilla Village reminisced that the previous decade had not seen as much flooding as before but there were talks about how this time’s flood is rumoured to be as severe as those from the 80s. The despair is evident in his tone as he talks about not having any other means of survival and the only option left is to flee.
The reporter spoke to a team of men from the Delhi Civil Defence working on rescuing and helping the flood-affected families. Water is being brought in via trucks from the Delhi Water Board and medical camps have been set up to treat the injured. The DM is also providing meals for the settlements.
“The tents aren’t of good quality,” says one of the men, while acknowledging that the Government is trying its best.
If it was to pour, none of the families and their belongings would be completely safe. Relief plans are still under discussion as the team is trying to figure out a way to provide basic facilities.
The age old question of environmental degradation remains. There is room for better planning and implementation as we constantly exhaust these resources. An issue that is pan-nation and not just restricted to Delhi – Is it the water that is flooding our spaces or us encroaching upon nature?
Original Source: The Wire