Girls fish in Kusiani village. Picture by Sumir Karmakar
Kusiani (Morigaon), July 17: Seven-year-old Moushumi is fast asleep. Her father, Jula Ali, one of the nearly 100 families taking shelter here since their houses were flooded two weeks ago, sits beside her under a tarpaulin sheet along the Guwahati-Jagiroad road near Pobitora wildlife sanctuary.
"She is down with fever and did not sleep a wink last night. I gave her two tablets which I bought from a pharmacy today. After that the temperature has dropped," Ali told this correspondent as he anxiously waited for a government doctor to visit them. "We are somehow managing our food. Many children here have fallen ill. Forget about us, the government should at least look after our children," he added. No baby food from the state government has reached the flood-affected people here yet.
Ali's three sons, aged between nine and 14, were playing by continuously jumping into the floodwaters from a culvert on the other side of the road while two of his daughters waited behind fishing nets for their next catch.
"As children bathe in the floodwaters and go fishing, many are falling ill, suffering mostly from fever and earache. Moreover, they run the risk of being run over by vehicles as they keep crossing the road. My daughter Asma got injured yesterday after being hit by a motorcycle," Khairun Nessa, another flood-affected woman, said pointing to her six-year-old daughter.
Drowning and trafficking also pose a serious risk to children affected by the deluge.
Nearly 500 children have taken refuge with their parents by the wayside. They are primarily residents of Kusiani, Bordia, Murkata Number 1 and Murkata Number 2 villages in Morigaon district, about 40km east of Guwahati.
The government, however, says people in the district have not left their homes because of floods.
The Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), which issues a flood bulletin every evening, does not have any break-up of the children and women affected by flood, which, like every year, has wreaked havoc in the state.
"Of the 60 flood-related deaths in the state so far, 23 are below 14 years. We are collecting data on the affected children," the project officer of ASDMA in Guwahati, Rajib Prakash Baruah, said.
The current floods have affected nearly 4,000 villages, covering more than 25 lakh people in 29 of the state's 33 districts.
Singer Zubeen Garg and members of his fan club collect relief for the flood-affected in Guwahati on Monday. The drive was carried out by Zubeen Garg Fan Club and Kalaguru Artist Foundation, a cultural organisation set up in memory of Assamese cultural icon Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha. Picture by UB Photos
The government data issued on Saturday said more than 1.21 lakh people had taken shelter in 320 relief camps opened by the government.
Save the Children, an international NGO working in Assam since 2002, said more than six lakh children have been affected in this year's floods. "During a natural disaster like flood, children are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation as their parents remain busy either in managing a shelter or food. Many children drown in floodwaters. Nutritional needs of the newborn, lactating mothers and pregnant women are affected due to lack of proper supply of baby food in relief camps. Schools get damaged or eroded every year and sometimes remain shut for months, affecting children's education in the long run," Chitta Priyo Sadhu, general manager of Save the Children, told The Telegraph. Sadhu is the team leader of the NGO distributing relief items to flood-affected children.
"The government agencies and civil society should work out child-specific relief mechanisms so that children are protected, provided proper food and the impact on their education is minimised," Sadhu said.
"In 2003, we had launched a project in which child-friendly spaces are facilitated in some relief camps during floods every year. Under it, children are provided both play and study materials. We engage two facilitators in each centre. In 2014, we trained district disaster management officials in 23 districts on how to ensure child protection. Such child-friendly space can be facilitated by the government in every flood-prone district," Deba Prasad Sarma, project co-ordinator of the NGO in Assam, said. Chiranjeeb Kakoty, director of the Northeast Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses, another NGO, had written to ASDMA on Saturday, seeking details on the number of flood-affected children, pregnant women and the elderly for specific relief measures.