‘Never seen anything like it': Victims aghast at severity of floods in Sunamganj

Octogenarian Abul Khair has lived through quite a few natural calamities in his long life. The deadly deluge of 1970 remains etched in his mind, while the memory of the floods in 1988, still considered the worst in Bangladesh, is even more vivid.

Masum Billah from Sunamganjbdnews24.com
Published : 2 July 2022, 11:56 AM
Updated : 2 July 2022, 11:56 AM

But, according to him, neither comes close to the destruction caused by the flash floods that have submerged the greater Sylhet region since mid-June.

“I have never seen a flood cause so much damage so quickly,” Khair said.

Having spent almost all his life in the Haors or wetlands of Sunamganj, Khaer is no stranger to overflowing water. He grew up in Dekhar Haor and has been living in a small area called South Baraban along the swamp for the last 50 years.

On Jun 17, Khair was at home when the mountain runoff, triggered by record rainfall in India's Meghalaya and Assam, came rushing downstream and swept the northeastern district.

Within a matter of hours, the area was waist-deep in floodwater.

Khair, along with his family, contemplated leaving the house to look for higher ground on a small dinghy, but later opted to stay at home instead, braving distress and fear.

His family of eight were almost glued to the two beds they shared for the next three days. Every chore, including cooking on a tin stove, was done on the bed as water flowed through the house.

“The waves [of the floodwater] were massive. So, we were not sure if our dinghy was strong enough to withstand the current till we found dry land. Then we told ourselves, if push comes to shove, we would rather die in our own home,” Khair said while describing the ordeal.

The flood partially destroyed Khair’s house and ruined a few hundred kilograms of paddy, their main staple.

The scale of devastation left him to reminisce about the floods he had encountered in yesteryears.

Apart from 1970 and 1988, Khair had witnessed the wreckage caused by floods in 1966, 1968, 1998, 2000 and 2004.

"But nothing came close to this," he said.

Khair isn't the only one who believes the latest floods are the worst in living memory.

‘WORST IN 122 YEARS’

Administrators, experts and statisticians also believe the damage caused by this year's floods is the most since records began.

Dr Md Enamur Rahman, state minister for Disaster Management and Relief, described it as the “worst floods in the last 122 years”.

According to flood experts, the water level in the greater Sylhet region had reached a new high this year, surpassing the records set in 1988, 1998 and 2004.

Though the recent flooding was mainly caused by downstream rainwater from neighbouring Indian states, experts have pointed to the reduction of navigability in rivers and unplanned urbanisation as the other main factors behind the destruction.

Another important factor that exacerbated the devastation is the lack of awareness among people living in the region, they said.

‘NOBODY THOUGHT IT WOULD BE THIS BAD’

Having endured numerous floods over the years, there is a sense that the people of the region may have initially taken this year's deluge lightly.

In light of the floods in recent years, Kabirul Islam, a shopkeeper in the South Baraban area, said he did not anticipate the scale of damage from the floods this year. He ultimately had to sacrifice some of his precious goods to save his own life as he was moving the commodities of his shop to another location by boat.

“Nobody thought the waters would rise this high. Suddenly, there was water everywhere. That’s why the damage is so great,” he said.

Septuagenarian Ali Amzad echoed Kabir's sentiment.

“It’s a hilly area, so if the water level rises one day, it generally goes down the following day because of the slope. We did not think the destruction would be so great this year,” he said.

He had to take shelter on a nearby college campus when the water was rising. He has yet to return home as his house was partially destroyed. He and his family have been living at a relative’s place in South Baraban for the last 15 days.

The victims of the flood in South Baraban are hoping the government will come to their aid.

According to Sunamganj Deputy Commissioner Jahangir Hossain, rough estimates show that at least 45,000 households were affected by the flood to some extent. Of those, at least 4,745 houses were destroyed, while 40,541 were partially damaged.

“We have yet to get an actual figure. It'll still take another month to get a full picture of the devastation” he said.

[Written in English by Adil Mahmood]

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher