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India: A family on the run – from annihilation

In the village of Vijaynagar, along the river Mandakini, we meet the survivors of the havoc that descended in Uttarakhand. Many of them are finding their way from secluded villages in the upper reaches of the mountains to safer areas, where they can access the aid that has not been able to reach them and their day-to-day needs can be taken care of.

Dhirendra Lal, 42, is a father who has hitch-hiked about 20km from Chandrapuri village with his son and two daughters. His wife stayed, with their infant daughter. He was not at home when the disaster struck: he lives and works in Sonprayag, in a hotel. When he heard how bad the floods were, he quickly made his way home through the pelting rains. A bridge had been washed away so his trek was longer and more arduous than usual.

Separated but safe

Luckily for him, his wife had managed to rescue their four children, as well as their cow. He is now on his way to Gunou village, 10km away, to leave his children with his in-laws there.

Dhirendra Lal and his family

How has the trauma affected his family? “The children scream at night,” Lal says.  I ask Ankita, the elder of the two daughters, how she reacted to the floods. “I ran and ran,” she replies in a murmur, “and continued running. It felt as if the water was chasing me forever.” I ask the boy, Ankush, what he needs most now? “A home,” he replies: “somewhere I can be safe from floods and stay with my parents.”

What about their schooling?  When will they resume

their studies? “I don’t know,” says Lal. “We have lost everything we had – my priority is to find a way to rebuild our lives.” It will be many months before his three children are able to go back to school, he fears.

Finally, I ask Lal about the relief that he has received. “Nothing,” he replies. “Nobody has even come to meet us as yet. We have little to eat and that’s why I am leaving three of my children at our relatives’ house. When I go back, I will reconstruct my home. Hopefully there will still be work for me, since now there are no pilgrims coming to stay in the hotels.”

Relief nearby – for now

We tell him about a relief camp that is providing food and other essential items in neighbouring Silli village and he says that he will stop there on his way back — though he does not know how he can carry heavy provisions through the mountains to where his home was.

The road to his village will take months to repair but some relief material is being carried to such cut-off but relatively close villages on ponies. But a lot of the relief supplies have been hurriedly dumped in easier-to-access areas and we fear for Lal and so many others like him. Will relief continue to come, once the media attention dies out in the coming weeks?

Devendra Singh Tak works for Save the Children India

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