Homes and dreams torn apart by floods, they sleep rough on Sunamganj highways

When the devastating floods hit Sunamganj district in the middle of last month, Shahida Begum, a resident of Ambari village under Dowarabazar Upazila, took shelter with her two babies in a building on a higher plain, half a kilometre away from her place, a cosy hut made of mud.

Masum Billah from Sunamganjbdnews24.com
Published : 1 July 2022, 07:59 PM
Updated : 1 July 2022, 08:05 PM

She carried the two children on her shoulders so that they would not drown in the incoming waves of floodwater that ravaged much of the district.

On her way to the shelter, she witnessed carcasses of dead domestic animals, and parts of people’s houses floating on the waist-high water.

When the water level had gone down three days later, her priority was to find out the toll the floodwater took on her house.

There was no sign of a hut anymore.

Instead, what remained there was a massive pile of mud and some remnants of her household materials.

Since then, the family took shelter at a point, which is right beside what used to be the hut, of a busy motorway that stretches from Dowarabazar Upazila central to the district town. They have made a tent-like temporary place of their own there, made out of bamboo and plastic sheets.

Hundreds of other people like Shahida have been living like rough sleepers on the highway since the flooding, which carried rain water poured on the Indian state of Assam and Meghalaya at a record level for about a week or so, hit the north-eastern district of Bangladesh.

THE ABYSMAL LIVES OF THE ROUGH SLEEPERS

Shahida’s family share a makeshift cooker made out of the tin for food with another family who took shelter on the highway alongside them.

All the tangible assets Shahida’s family had were washed away by the deluge, including their main staple, rice, and some domesticated chicken and ducks.

Shahida’s elder brother Kaiyum, who was identified by his first name, goes out every morning to look for relief support from different sources to feed the family of 10.

When it rains, she said, the makeshift shelter can hardly resist the water coming inside.

“We've essentially become rough sleepers since we don’t have any other options,” she said when interviewed on Friday.

Kaiyum was spotted busy fixing the hut so that they forgo the life the family were forced to adopt as soon as possible.

Elderly Ayesha Begum, the matriarch of the family that has been residing beside Shahida’s on the highway, used to live in a similar hut not far from where she is living now.

It’s no longer there.

Every day, she waits for her turn to cook for the family until Shahida’s family finishes theirs.

“Don’t know when we can go back. Though we've been receiving some support from the government and private sources, those are not enough. We're still struggling to make ends meet,” she said while speaking to bdnews24.com.

These people do not know when they can return to their places and will be able to end this abysmal phase of their lives.

Some 30 more similar temporary shelters were spotted by bdnews24.com on a different highway in Janigaon, which is located approximately eight kilometres away from Sunamganj town.

At least 40 families have been living in those makeshift shelters.

Whenever they sense a vehicle has arrived with some aid, chaos ensues as every family rushes for their shares.

ADMINISTRATION YET TO GET A COMPLETE PICTURE

According to Sunamganj Deputy Commissioner Jahangir Hossain, hundreds of families as such have also taken shelter Sylhet-Sunamganj highway.

A rough estimation determines at least 45,000 households were somehow affected by the flood, the DC said. Of those, at least 4, 745 houses were destroyed while 40, 541 households were partially destroyed.

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

[Written in English by Adil Mahmood; editing by Biswadip Das]

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher