New Delhi/Assam, India – The death toll in India continues to rise after flooding and landslides ravaged several parts of the country, forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes and millions more affected.
At least 142 people have died in two Indian states – Assam and Bihar – since monsoon flooding began earlier this month.
“The death toll due to floods reached to 92 in Bihar on Friday,” an official of the State Disaster Management Department told Al Jazeera, adding that a “rescue and relief operation is in full swing”.
In Bihar, India’s poorest state where 150 children died last month due to encephalitis, more than six million people in 12 districts have been affected by the floods, after torrential rains in neighbouring Nepal last week.
As of now, 114,721 people have taken shelter in various relief camps set up by the government across the state.
Locals said that although the waters have receded in recent days, the situation is still grim as many areas remain inaccessible.
“Roads are still submerged, villages inundated with water,” Shamim Akhter, who is from Sitamarhi, the worst-hit district in the recent floods where 27 people lost their lives, told Al Jazeera.
He said the situation in several places is still “critical”.
“People who cannot leave their homes are running out of essential commodities, and community kitchens … are inaccessible for them,” Akhter added. “The rescue and relief operation teams need to reach to these people immediately.”
Mohammad Assad, a resident of Kathihar district in Bihar, shared the same concerns. “People are running out of essential supplies like food items and drinking water, and these people need to be moved to relief camps immediately.”
Ajit Singh, inspector of the National Disaster Response Force’s (NDRF) emergency centre in the capital city, Patna, told Al Jazeera over the phone that 19 teams “are working with state authorities across Bihar to rescue and rehabilitate people as well as provide the necessary relief material.
“Our teams have so far evacuated nearly 4,500 people in flood-affected areas, including 10 pregnant women and several people bitten by snakes,” he said. “We are trying our best to reach to every affected person.”
Meanwhile, Nitish Kumar, Bihar chief minister, has launched a drive under which more than $26m has been disbursed to the affected people through direct cash transfer, with each flood-hit family getting 6,000 Indian rupees ($87).
Millions affected in Assam
The situation is no different in the northeastern state of Assam, where the Brahmaputra River, which flows through India, Bangladesh, and China, has swollen to alarming levels.
“In Assam, 50 people have died so far in floods and landslides,” Akhil Das, information assistant at Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), told Al Jazeera.
He added: “Over six million people have been affected by the floods and 25,000 people have been displaced.”
The floods have completely damaged more than 1,650 houses, with some 3,730 others partially damaged, according to ASDMA officials.
Although floodwater levels have begun receding here as well, the people affected face many challenges.
“We have been staying in a neighbour’s house over the last week,” said 40-year-old Sunita Das, who is from Jhargaon village in Assam’s Morigaon district.
“Hopefully, we can go back to our home in the next two days,” she added, noting, however, that more time would be needed to remove the water from the house.
Authorities have set up 755 relief camps across the state.
“The state government has been doing all the necessary steps to combat the flood situation,” Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal told reporters after inspecting the situation in Majuli.
“All the relief materials have been sent to the camps, including the baby foods and all the necessary items. The medical camps are also being conducted.”
Kaziranga National Park
Authorities in Assam, which is known for its lush tea plantations and diverse wildlife, are also battling to save the state’s precious endangered rhino population.
As many as 129 animals, including 11 endangered one-horned rhinos, have died either by drowning or by other means in the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, according to the state’s forest department.
More than 85 hog deer have also died due to the flooding, while many have perished after being hit by speeding vehicles on a national highway running through the forest.
“Most of the park areas are underwater,” Sailendra Pandey, spokesperson for the forest department, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s a tough time for the animals, but the flood is also important for the ecosystem. Our forest officials and workers are working round-the-clock, along with NGO workers in the rescue and rehabilitation process. So far, more than 50 animals have been rescued and provided with treatment.”
A full-grown Royal Bengal Tiger which took shelter inside a house on the fringes of a national park has been sent back to highlands inside the forest.
“Our vets and forest workers successfully treated her,” Pandey said. “This is nothing new that wild animals come out of the park during the floods. With the help of the locals, our forest officials take care of the animals during the floods.”
At least six people have also died because of floods in the neighbouring state of Meghalaya, according to I. Mawlong, executive director of the state disaster management authority.
Floods are a common phenomenon during the monsoon or rainy season – lasting from June to September – across India.
Every year, millions of people around the country are affected by the monsoon floods, with hundreds of thousands not just losing their homes but also their crops.
In August last year, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said that during the three months of the monsoon season, at least 1,310 people died due to floods in nine Indian states and 7.5 million were affected across the country.
“We can’t prevent floods, but we can reduce the number of deaths through prior early warnings, awareness generation and effective evacuation,” said Mohamad Farukh, the chief executive of Rapid Response, a nongovernmental charity focusing on disaster relief.
“In every monsoon, Bihar and Assam witness floods, so the government, NGOs and the community need to be prepared and ready to deal with the situation,” he added.