When the murky brown waters of the swollen river Singiehi battered her southern Nepal house to pieces, Amita Devi managed to save her five children and her identity card. But that was it.
“Everything else was swept away,” she says as she stands by the remains of the structure.
Like many of the 800,000 people displaced from their homes in Nepal by the flooding, the family were forced to flee to temporary shelter. Record floods have affected more than 20 million people in neighbouring India and in Bangladesh.
Amita and her children found shelter at the local school near their village of Baderwa, close to Nepal’s southern border with India.
There, Nepal Red Cross volunteers helped provide more than 250 people with emergency food and basic household necessities.
The floodwaters are receding and the temporary evacuation centre is being turned back into a school. Classrooms are needed as lessons resume for children from the local area.
Amita and her family have joined the growing number of those displaced by the floods who are having to either return to their ruined homes – if they still exist – or in their case, move in temporarily with relatives.
“Because we are landless, we will probably end up moving away from here,” says Amita, as she holds her son, Roshan’s hand. “Every year, there is flooding here so in my heart I would like to live somewhere safer.”
Her husband, Sayta Narayan, has just arrived back in his community to see the devastation. He was working in a factory 300 kilometres away when the disaster struck. “I don’t know what to say about our plight, but the main thing is that the children are safe,” he says.
Anxious about the future
All around, in the basic mud and timber homes of this community, there is anxiety about the future.
“It was better for us to stay in the school,” says Chandeshor Majhi, 27. “We don’t know what we will eat or where we will sleep,” he says. Like many in the community, Chandeshor’s livelihood comes from fishing in the river. But now everything is gone.
Outside the family’s home, polluted and rotting mud cakes the floors. The bare rooms are stripped of most of their possessions. Chandeshor’s mother is urgently building a new brick hearth to replace a stove broken in the flooding and enable them to boil water and cook the little food they can find.
His 23-year-old wife, Kavita Devi, cradles the baby girl, to whom she gave birth six days ago, while they were staying in the temporary evacuation centre, the local school.
No money for ambulance
Kavita says she has not been able to find the 1,000 Nepali rupees (10 US Dollars) needed to pay the local ambulance driver for the ride to the clinic to give birth to her third child. Following Nepali tradition, the baby is still a day or two away from being given a name.
On the way out of the village to the road, Devraj Sahani stands grimly by his field, which before the disaster promised crops of radishes, cauliflower and ginger. Now only a patch of turmeric plants seem to have withstood the onrush of the flood waters.
“Many of the local fish ponds were washed away too, with heavy losses in fish stocks,” says one local Red Cross volunteer, Umesh Mishra.
In a nearby village, Namuna, a small group of elderly men and mothers with small children remain in an outbuilding of the local school.
They say most of the families camped there have returned to their homes, but they have been resisting administrators’ pressure to leave because they say there is nothing left in their houses.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has released half a million Swiss Francs from its emergency funds to help support the relief efforts in Nepal. These have been spearheaded by more than 500 Nepal Red Cross volunteers, who helped to pull families from the flood waters and provided them with dry clothes and tarpaulins as well as food.
“But it’s clear that the disaster doesn’t end for these affected communities when the flood waters recede. They will need continued support to re-establish their lives and rebuild their livelihoods,” says Hari Prasad, Acting Secretary General of Nepal Red Cross Society.