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COVID-19: `No Water to Wash our Hands, Living in Filth” Say Narmada Valley Residents

Excessive flooding last year had led to enormous destruction in the valley, forcing thousands to leave their village and live in makeshift tents set up by the state government.
 COVID-19: `No Water to Wash our Hands, Living in Filth” Say Narmada Valley Residents

New Delhi: As the novel coronavirus pandemic looms large, there is fear of rapid community transmission. In some places, the threat of large-scale transmission is larger. One such area is in Madhya Pradesh, where several vulnerable flood-affected communities live in tin sheds.

In August last year, the state had witnessed enormous flooding with the level in Narmada river rising over the 138-meter mark, putting at risk the lives and livelihoods of over 32,000 families living in these villages. The families were shifted to 26 camps that were set up in Dhar, Barwani and Alirajpur. On October 31, 2019, food supply to these camps was stopped. 

The 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has made matters worse for these families that are already struggling for survival after loss of livelihood and homes and now grapple with fear of the virus. The Madhya Pradesh government has imposed a curfew in seven districts linked to coronavirus positive cases, limiting the movement of relief material and supply to these tin sheds. 

“No water, how do we wash hands?” 

Speaking with  NewsClick over the phone, Rohit, a member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), said: “There is no facility in the tin sheds, everything is lost for those who already moved to these tin sheds. This includes families belonging to over 17-18 villages. The rooms are 10X12 and are not sufficient for physical distancing needed between people.” 

Rihit said NBA was trying to provide foodgrains and relief material to these villages but the efforts were taking a serious hit because of restrictions by the state government.

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Papu, a farmer in his 50s, lives in a tin shed in Rajghat. He was displaced due to excessive flooding last year and while the government offered him land close to the sea in Gujarat, since the land was uncultivable he had to come back and live in the tin shed in MP. There are many others like him who are facing this double wrath of flooding and the virus. While the flooding snatched their economic resources, the COVID-19 pandemic is washing away any hope that these people had of the recovery. 

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Devendra Singh, who lives in a tin shed in Moolgaun, told Newsclick: “We have been living in these sheds for the past six months. Our fields were completely submerged in water and our animals died. Now there is no water left in the sheds and there is no arrangement for cleanliness. “

He said there were families from Chichori, Rajghat and other regions, but there was no response from the administration to address their problems. “In fact, it is because of the government that our livelihoods went away after the villages submerged. There is no water in a place like Barwani, many don’t have the option to even leave the tin shed and go back to villages. With  surging temperature, it is becoming extremely difficult for us to stay there. There are mosquitos, toilets are filled with filth,” he added. 

With the overload in the tin sheds, many people are being forced to move to different locations, with no assurance of where they will be taken. Jit Bijasan, who was moved out of the tin shed and given shelter in an anganwadi bhawan, told Newsclick:  “The bhawans are tiny. They have three rooms and over five families share the space. We are not getting any food supplies, and there is only one bulb to give us light.” 

Currently, these families are awaiting an announcement by the newly sworn in state government to address their crisis. As the coronavirus grips the world, refugees, displaced persons and vulnerable communities remain the worst hit, exposing the fault lines in the efforts of both the State machinery and the deep inequalities in the society. 

Read More: No Food or Rehabilitation, Narmada Flood Victims Protest Against MP Govt’s Apathy

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