Disaster has once again struck Karnataka with an uncanny precision—a decade after the region was left battered and bruised by massive landslides and floods in 2009, nature’s forces are back in 2019 to wreak havoc with districts like Belagavi and Bagalkote taking a major hit. The floods may now be over but it will take months for the victims to rebuild their lives. Relief agencies and the state government are doing everything possible to rehabiliate them but how long will temporary relief camps provide shelter? There are many who fear that the rehabilitation process may become another Aasare scheme in which lakhs of houses were built for the flood-hit after the 2009 calamity but remained unoccupied with the majority of victims not moving into them as they felt they were too small and lacked basic amenities. Vittal Shastri went on an inspection of the relief camps and checked on the condition of flood victims to find that a lot more needs to be done to ameliorate the suffering of these hapless people. To make things worse, the government seems clueless on how to prevent these disasters, which have destroyed enough lives and property and crushed a million carefully nurtured dreams.
Forty-eight year old Laxmavva Harijan, a Dalit, was left shell-shocked when she saw the debris of her house after the devastating flood turned the entire hamlet of Adibatti in Gokak taluk of Belagavi into rubble. She returned to the village after a week at a relief camp and feels life is all over for her and her two children. Her two buffalos and sheep have died in the floods caused by the overflowing Ghataprabha river. She like many other victims believes the disaster is a curse of God for her misdeeds in a previous birth and hopes her ‘Sahukar’(money lender) will come to her rescue by recommending her case to local legislator Balachandra Jarkiholi.
Right now, Laxmavva is busy searching for her utensils under the sludge left behind by the flood waters as her children jostle to collect household items provided by donors. Food is available and so are relief centres where they can spend the night but the villagers are haunted by frightening thoughts about what the future holds for them. And they have been told to vacate the camps soon as schools will have to reopen.
“No one will give us a loan to rebuild our house as the entire village is inundated. We are looking for a rented house in Gokak town but we cannot afford to pay the rent as we have lost everything. The sugarcane crop on the banks of the river is totally submerged for a stretch of over ten km,” explained Laxmavva.
She is not alone, there are over 40,000 people facing a similar plight in adjacent Chigadolli, Melavanki, Udagali, Thigadi, Hadiganal, Thalakatnal and 30 other villages in Gokak. To add to their woes, the odour from dead cattle and other animals is nauseating and poses the threat of disease. There are snakes and venomous insects all around with the earth still slushy and dirty.
Gokak tahsildar Prakash Holeppagol tried to allay fears about the victims being left without a roof over their heads saying schools will run in a few classrooms while others will be allotted to the flood-hit till they are shifted to government buildings. “We are discussing alternative arrangements to accommodate the victims until their villages are reconstructed”, he added.
Housing facilities no doubt are the major challenge with thousands of structures collapsing in the incessant rain which continued for nearly two weeks. The clay-roofs built nearly a century ago are leaking like sieves and one could easily have a good bath inside the house if it rains again!
Munavalli town adjoininge Malaprabha reservoir in Savadatti taluk of Belagavi is the worst hit with almost 75 per cent of the area inundated. The old houses are built in the traditional style in narrow lanes and rebuilding them is no easy task. Munavalli which has a 35,000 strong population, is submerged for the first time after the dam was built in 1972. It all happened because of the record outflow of 1.20 lakh cusecs from the dam against the average water release of 20,000 cusecs every year.
“Shifting the town is impossible given the high cost of agricultural land where sugarcane is being produced for years. We are left with no choice but to continue our life in our dilapidated house with the floods posing a perpetual threat. There is no clean water to drink nor do we have jobs for the past 2-3 weeks as the sugar factory has shut down after the cane crop was submerged. My family now depends on Anna Bhagya rice for survival ”, said 38-year old citizen Rajesh Hasalkar.
Business has taken a big hit with shop owners finding it impossible to run their show without power and water. People do not have money and this too has given businessmen a jolt. Many petty shop owners have done the best thing they could—migrate to other cities to earn their livelihood until the situation in Munavalli returns to normal.
Fifty-five year old Modinsab Bepari who runs a hotel, has to start from scratch and also contend with the herculean task of removing all the silt left behind by the flood waters in his farm land. “Our family had to stay at a madrasa along with thousands of others for more than a week till the Malaprabha flood waters receded. We now desperately need cement, sand and other construction material to rebuild our house”, his son Salman Bepari said.
One of the worst hit business communities are weavers like those in Ramdurg where handlooms, powerlooms, silk and other raw material were completely washed away in the Malaprabha waters. They now survive by selling the sarees every Saturday in the market. Though the government has announced a waiver of their loans, they need to make investments to get their business going again. The Ramdurg Taluk Weavers’ Forum has estimated the loss at around Rs 5 crore with the houses and mills of more than 400 families destroyed.
Forty-one year old weaver, Irappa Chikkumbi of Halagatti village is left homeless and without his five power looms which were destroyed by the floods. “I have rented a house as there is a heavy rush of victims at the relief centre. We do not get adequate food there and the officials said the centres will be closed in two days”, he explained.
The loss of all that they had and the wrecking of their homes is something many of these villagers are finding difficult to digest. The mental trauma has driven some of them in Belagavi and Bagalkote to commit suicide. Twenty-two year old Maruti Kshathri ended his life by hanging himself, dejected over the collapse of his house in the Krishna flood waters in Kulahalli village of Rabakavi-Banahatti taluk in Bagalkote.
More dams, better water management including optimum sharing of water resources with neighbouring states and careful planning ahead of every monsoon on how to manage the deluge before it is too late—all these and a lot more need to be done to prevent a repeat of the ‘Maha disaster’ which Karnataka is still grappling with....