Receding flood waters reveal disastrous damage in Sylhet

Sunday, 26 June 2022

As the waters started receding following Sylhet division's worst flood in living memory, the disastrous damage it inflicted also became evident, along with the challenge any recovery effort will face in the days ahead.

The death toll from the third flash flood of the year in Sylhet reached 52 on Sunday morning (from May 17), according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), but this is almost certainly an underestimate, with local sources claiming the toll to be much higher. Many areas haven't even been accessed, where the authorities have no idea of casualties.

According to Sylhet District administration, around 2.2 million people from four lakh families are bearing the brunt of this terrible disaster while 80 per cent of the area still remains under water as of Sunday.

"Part of Sylhet City Corporation, all the 13 upazilas and five municipalities and 94 unions were affected in the district. The exact number of people facing the damages will be 2.18 million of 416,819," said Ahsanul Alam, Assistant Commissioner of District Administration.

He said 22,450 houses and 28,945 hectares of cropland have been damaged according to official estimation so far, reports UNB.

However, locals are claiming the damage is vaster and the recovery will be long.

Bearing the brunt

Tara Mia, 70, from Janigaon village, has not seen such a terrible flood in his entire life. "On June 16, when all of a sudden water started entering my house I took shelter near a high area beside Sylhet-Sunamganj highway and remained there since. None cares about us though, people come and speed away with their vehicles as we sit helplessly beside the road," he said.

Khushbu Begum, 60, from the same village said, "Don't know how we will get back to our homes after flood water lowers as it is filled with soil now."

Husnahar Banu, 35, who took shelter in a ramshackle cottage beside the highway with her six children, said, "We took refuge here 14 days ago and are not sure how many days we will need to spend on the roads. There is still water inside the home that we left."

Fifty-five-year-old Kahar Mia was more worried about his cattle as some of them had already washed away. "We can survive by eating flattened or parched rice but the helpless animals might die without their food," he said.

Akkas Ali, from Jaikar Kandi village in Kandigaon union, returned home from the shelter centre on Saturday evening and broke down in tears as nothing but the foundation remained.

"The floodwater took away everything but the clothes on our bodies. We are eating the relief provided by people. How will we build everything back now?" he wondered aloud as he was unsure how to bring back his family from the shelter as there is no home.

Tahera Begum from Moiar Char village said, "For five days I took shelter in Badaghat High School and as I returned home found the toilet was broken and everything in the house was damaged. Repairing everything is the biggest challenge for everyone as the flood has snatched our income sources too."

Broken communication, health sectors

The consequence of the flood in Sylhet became graver as the road communications completely broke down and many hospitals were submerged.

A total of 125 Km roads were flooded in Sylhet this time according to the Road Transport and Highways Division and Local Government Engineering Department.

As the water level started reducing, the damage to the roads built by the Road Transport division became evident. The water pressure was so heavy that most of the roads were distorted like a cyclone distorts houses.

The major hospitals of Sylhet like Shahid Shamsuddin Ahmed District Hospital, MAG Osmani Medical College and Hospital were submerged during the flood and remained completely or partially out of service.

According to the Department of Health, 24 out of 40 health complexes in Sylhet division have been affected by the floods. Of the 65 union sub-centers, 31 have been flooded. Water entered two 20-bed hospitals in Sunamganj. In addition, 414 out of 926 community clinics were submerged in water.

With the exception of three upazilas of Sylhet district (Jaintapur, Beanibazar, Golapganj), all the health facilities of the remaining 10 upazilas were completely submerged. Companiganj and Gowainghat Upazila Health Complexes were under 10 feet of water.

According to a report of the Sylhet Health Department, all the affected health facilities have suffered extensive infrastructure damage. Electrical equipment, EPI ILR refrigerators, pathological examination equipment, X-ray machines, MSR equipment have been damaged in many health complexes. The extent to which these submerged devices are damaged could not be examined until the water receded.

Current situation

80 per cent area of four districts of the division still remains submerged as water started receding from Surma river area but the water level was still concerningly high near Kushiara river areas.

According to the Sylhet Water Development Board (WDB), at 9 am on Sunday, the water level of Surma River at Kanaighat Point dropped to 13.57 cm while the water level at Sylhet point of the river decreased to 10.72 cm but all this is still above danger level. Meanwhile, the water level of Kushiara River at Sheola Point, Sherpur Point and Fenchuganj Point remained unchanged.

Asif Ahmed, executive engineer of Sylhet WDB said that the water level in Sylhet has started decreasing due to lack of rain in the last five days.

"The water level is coming down slowly and if it doesn't rain, water will recede in the next couple of days. However, there is a possibility of rain again at the end of next month," he said.

After effects & challenges

As of Sunday, when many people started returning to their homes from shelter centres another sort of challenge appeared as clogged wastes with water polluted the air in Sylhet city and its suburbs with unbearable stench.

The logged water at Jatarpur, Mirabazar, Shahjalal upazila, Sobhanighat, Mirzajangal, Taltala, Jamtala, Sheikhghat, Ghasitula, Kuarpar and Laladighi areas of the city turned dirty and black. The stench is spreading from the frozen water in these places.

Shahnewaz Hossain, a resident of Jatarpur area, said the suffering is not ending even though the water receded.

"Earlier, the water was a bit cloudy but not dirty. But with time the clogged water has turned black and stinky. As we are walking through dirty water all the time our feet are itching constantly", he said.

Rubel Ahmed Kuasha, a local playwright working as a volunteer to help the flood victims said "For now, we need to set up a fund for the rehabilitation of flood victims rather than distributing dry food.

"People will be able to overcome crises during floods with their emergency savings and relief. But the main danger will come soon after the water recedes. Because the tin roof, and fence of the house are submerged, furniture in the house has been damaged, and the poultry has been washed away. They will need to repair these after the water recedes," he said.

He feared these people may take loans from moneylenders or private companies to repair houses and furniture which will push them toward huge debts.

The Ministry of Disaster and Relief has so far allocated 1,412 metric tonnes of rice, 13,218 packets of dry food and Tk 14.2 million in cash for the flood-hit areas, according to the district administration.