Although the situation is improving, the severity of the flooding continues to hold them back. Some of these low-income families are now staring at the prospect of destitution in the wake of the destruction. Many homes were washed away while others had their roofs blown off by the high winds during the storms.
Consequently, scores of women, children and the elderly are spending their days in inhumane conditions in a smattering of shacks built on higher ground.
They are living on the dry food and relief packets that are thrown from relief trucks and vehicles coming from different parts of the country.
Torrential rain and mountain runoff from upstream in India’s Meghalaya and Assam completely submerged over 90 percent of Sunamganj and the majority of districts in Sylhet.
The record-breaking floods have affected an estimated 7.2 million people who are in desperate need of shelter and emergency relief items in the north-eastern region, according to the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.
The monsoon usually brings heavy rains in the region between June and October, often triggering floods, especially in low-lying areas like Bangladesh, where rivers are swollen with waters pouring out of the Himalayas often burst their banks.
Many of the victims are stunned by the severity of the floods and the ensuing damage.
The flooding in the region this year has widely been described as the worst in over a century.
“We have never seen this sort of flooding in our living memories of that region. Hundreds of thousands of people took refuge as their houses went under water and almost all their neighbourhoods were inundated," Bangladesh Red Crescent Society's Secretary General Kazi Shofiqul Azam said.
Large parts of Sunamganj and Sylhet were completely cut off from the rest of the country as the floods wreaked havoc on the region's road communication network. The situation was compounded by the flooding of power substations, with the resulting power outages also disrupting mobile networks.
“The severity of the floods is extreme. Many people have been affected in different ways. Many have begun to return home. However, many are still stranded at shelters or on the side of roads,” said Sunamganj's Deputy Commissioner Jahangir Hossain said,
The Surma River's water level has risen by 11 cm in the last 24 hours but it is currently flowing 25 cm below the danger level, according to Md Shamsuddoha, executive engineer of the Sunamganj Water Development Board.
Flood-stricken people are staying in thatched huts on the elevated parts of roads from Sunamganj town to Gobindganj.
In Sunamganj Sadar's Madanpur village, five families have occupied tarpaulin tents lining both sides of the road to Sylhet. Irun Nesa is living in one of them with her grandson's family.
On Jun 17, an overflowing haor or wetland had submerged the Sylhet-Sunamganj area and the floodwater soon encroached on her home. The octogenarian was later picked up by two men and taken to higher ground amid a storm. Many more women and children soon filled up the other tents. They have been living there ever since.
"I am around 80 years old now. I've heard stories of various natural disasters from my father and grandfather. But none of those was as terrible as this. I have seen major floods in my long life, but I have never seen such a horrific sight, where every house is under water.”
"My grandson's house was torn apart by the intensity of the floodwaters. The fence is broken and the tin roof was blown away. Now, the house is no longer liveable, so I'm on the road.”
Dilu Bibi was sitting in the tent next to Irun's. Regarding her current predicament, she said: "Nine members of my family, including my grandchildren, have been living in huts built on the road for the last 10 days. I took refuge on the road at midnight on Friday with great difficulty. I'm still wearing the same clothes. The floods have washed away everything. The house has been badly damaged, so I can't even leave this roadside hut.”
The main road from Khaikkarpar village in Shantiganj Upazila's Haorpar is still submerged in water. Sitara Begum, a 65-year-old mother of eight, was living happily in the village in a house she received as a gift from the government as part of the Mujib Year celebration. While the water has receded, a part of her house remains flooded, forcing her to live in a hut on the Sunamganj-Sylhet Road next to the Shahid Taleb Bridge with her family.
Ayatun Nesa, a resident of the same village, has also been forced to take refuge in one of the roadside huts as her home was destroyed by the floods. The two women have demanded the government's help to repair their homes.
RELIEF EFFORTS CONTINUE APACE
Asked what initiatives have been taken to alleviate the suffering of flood victims, DC Jahangir said, “I have asked the relief ministry for housing assistance for those whose homes have been damaged. Assistance will be given to the actual victims. But now we are providing relief to all those who have been affected by the floods.”
So far, 1,365 tonnes of GR rice and Tk 23.5 million in cash aid have been distributed in the district, according to Sunamganj Relief and Rehabilitation Officer Shafiqul Islam.
Another 200,000 relief packets and 26,000 packets of dry food have been distributed through private initiatives.
Noting that there is no shortage of relief items, he said the district administration is distributing relief in all parts of the district.
Teams from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society are also providing food packages to last at least two weeks, healthcare services through mobile medical teams, hygiene and dignity kits and tarpaulins and jerrycans.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it has launched an emergency appeal of $7.8 million to support the Bangladesh Red Crescent to scale up and expand the reach of its localised response and recovery efforts.
“Within just a month, Sylhet and Sunamganj have been flooded and the scale of devastation this time is so much more than the previous ones. We are scaling up our operations alongside the Bangladesh Red Crescent due to the urgency of the situation," said Sanjeev Kafley, head of the IFRC's Bangladesh Country Delegation.
"The greater focus is on the urgent needs of the affected population for the first three months by expanding and scaling up the response of the Bangladesh Red Crescent. After that, recovery assistance will also be provided ensuring that the affected population will self-recover from the crisis in a sustainable way and strengthen their resilience to impending disasters.”