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Blog: homes crushed in India floods

4 July 2013

Christian Aid press officer, Melanie Smith, blogs from northern India where she met a number of people whose lives have been torn apart by the floods.

I trekked for an hour-and-a-half into the Uttarkashi mountains to Udari, a small village. Two weeks ago intense heavy rain shifted the hillside and sections broke away, causing landslides.

The communities living high in the mountains have been greatly affected by the extreme weather, something that isn’t readily reported.

Family torn apart

Half of Dhanpal Singh’s home was crushed, killing his eight-month pregnant wife, his mother (his aunt who adopted him), and two of his youngest children. 

Three members survived – his father, his 10-year-old daughter Arti, and himself. Since the accident, Arti has barely uttered a word.

Dhanpal and his daughter, Arti

Dhanpal with his daughter, Arti, whose home was crushed by the landslides 

Although their story is devastating, it was heart-warming to see how their community have supported them; they’re now staying in a vacant property in the village.

Christian Aid partner, Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) is supporting the people of Udari by helping them claim the government compensation they’re entitled to. 

The shifting land has caused cracks to appear in many of their houses, and the government has announced that people whose houses have been partially damaged by the extreme weather are entitled to 10,000 rupees.

Dalit communities

Arriving in the Uttarkashi relief camp, set up in a school after the disastrous monsoon rains, I was physically swamped by people wanting to share their experiences, their desperate faces all portraying devastating loss.

Many of the people I met belong to dalit communities, who are often socially excluded and discriminated against. And those living in Uttarkashi are no different, with most living on the river bank exposing them to life-threatening floods.

She ran for her life

One woman I met, 55-year-old Sheela Devi, explained her community’s homes had been built dangerously close to the river on land that was no use to anyone else due to its position. 

She told me how she heard a loud noise early in the morning, and rushed to the window to see a sea of debris hurtling towards their home. 

They didn’t stand a chance as the water scaled the wall that protected their community from the river. With just the clothes on her back, she ran for her life.

Despite having lived there her whole life, she’s too scared to return; ‘it’s a question of life and death’ for them.

Thankfully, she’s now living in the camp with her family, receiving food, water, blankets and essential medical care through CASA. She hopes that they will be relocated to a safer place, so this can’t happen again.

Supporting each other

It’s apparent to me that without the support of local organisations like CASA, people affected by the monsoon rains would be very much alone as they come to terms with their loss.

It’s fantastic to see people pulling together at this disastrous time and supporting each other to get through it.

 

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