Aila Victims are Starving:

A report

Nityananda Ghosh

More than 120 days after the devastation wrought by the Aila Cyclone in the Sunderbans, people continue to starve as there is no supply of food because of the State Government callousness towards relief. This representative has the experience of visiting these areas several times in a mission to distribute relief and organise medical camps with People's Health and other organisations in the remote areas of Kumirmari and Satjelia islands. Both these islands are worst affected among the nineteen affected blocks belongs to North and South 24 Parganas. It is now well known to everybody that Hingalgunge, Sandeshkhali, Patharpratima and Gosaba blocks of both North and South 24 Parganas are worst-hit by cyclone Aila. Most of the people belongs to Satjelia and Kumirmari islands under Gosaba block have been rendered homeless and lost their belongings and at present they are staying under the open sky or few have managed to build tarpaulin huts.
A team of People’s Health and East Calcutta Medical Club including this representative visited these areas on 16 September and 11 October 2009. It took 5 hours to reach the villages of Satjelia on boat. It was seen that broken embankments have been repaired but there are small breaches at many places. Temporary huts have been built up for dwelling covered with tarpaulin sheets throughout the banks of the river Roymongal starting from Kumirmari to Satjelia islands. Ninety per cent of the mud-built houses have been totally demolished and the sweet water ponds have been polluted with the influx of saline water. Cultivation of aman crops and other vegetables is not only not possible this season but is unpredictable for the next season too.
Ranjan Giri (59) of Bhurulia villege belongs to Kumirmari island has lost all his cattle and his only mud-built house. He along with his family members and others had spent 3 days and nights staying on the boat without any food and drinking water. Surajit Basu (25) of Mission-para of this area had the same experience. Having lost his 5 bighas of land, he did not know how he would manage to maintain his 5-member family.
At present most of the marooned people are homeless, jobless, and they are spending their days getting paltry amount of relief from the various NGOs. Nikhil Mondal (37), a landless peasant runs a 5-member family, who resides at Lahiripore No. 10 village under Satjelia island of Gosaba block alleged that the RSP MLA Chitta Mondal of this constituency did not visit the place since the cyclone. The gram panchayat controlled by the RSP has distributed rice thrice amounting to 1.5 kg, 1 kg & 700 gram respectively with 100 gram of dal and a tarpaulin sheet to each family. This village having more or less 5,000 population (1200 houses) is devoid of any high school and a primary health centre. The ailing people have to rush either to Chhoto Mollakhali or to Rangabelia, 10-12 km away from this remote place to get medical treatment. The same fate is faced by Satjelia Emlibari No. 2 village and other surrounding villages.
People's Health plans to launch a people's health movement throughout Bengal demanding one primary health centre for every 5,000 population. People's Health has organised several medical camps in these devastated islands since June 2009. This time they have organised both eye camps and medical camps at Satjelia's Lahiripore village. They have also built up a village committee to monitor the health care in this village.
Besides the loss of cattle and other wild animals, experts are of opinion that at least 15 per cent mangrove plants have been lost. Dr. Kumud Ranjan Naskar, the principal scientist of CIFRI asserted that building up of concrete embankments throughout the river bank is not the permanent solution to fight an Aila-like storm. He said that at least 30% forest area is required for restoration or regulation of climatic conditions and for the productivity of land which is universally accepted. But West Bengal has only 13.4% (satellite survey reports 6.1%) of dense forest cover which causes a number of climatic hazards in the tract. Dr. Dwijen Guha Baxi, ex-deputy director general of BSI also supported Dr. Naskar’s diagnosis.

The hapless people of this devastated delta have to face severe consequences as the winter is approaching.