Floods washing away the future for many in West Bengal Farmers working on small plots suffer most, as they also miss out on government’s relief packages

04, Aug 2021 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

If you thought that surviving the dual onslaught of Covid-19 and cyclone Amphan was a feat, residents of several districts of South Bengal, now have floods to deal with. Though, floods are so regular here, that anything short of devastation, doesn’t even ring alarm bells as loud as it should, anymore.

Due to the incessant rains, many rivers are flowing above the danger mark, and vast agricultural lands in nearly seven districts have been submerged. Riverine Bengal is also one of the places that gets some of the heaviest rains each monsoon region. Some rivers that flow through Bengal carry the glacial waters of the Himalayas, and are almost full throughout the year. During the monsoon season, when the south-west monsoon winds blow over the region, and there is a lot of rainfall, the other rivers gradually fill up too.

Every year the excessive rainfall results in swollen rivers, that then weakens the riverbanks that often breach, and flood waters rush into the villages, towns and even cities.

CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program aims at empowering young men and women, from the communities we work closely with, including migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis, forest workers among other disadvantaged people, to report on issues closest to their hearts and home. Please Donate Now to empower our grassroots fellows.

Cause and effects of floods in Bengal

Most causes of floods are natural, such as excessive rainfall, swollen rivers fed by the glacial waters of the Himalayas, and according to geologists, strong earthquakes. All these factors, over the years, have resulted in higher water levels, and weaker riverbeds and riverbanks. On the other hand, the villages and towns near the river lack a proper drainage system, and the sewage backflow also rushes in, bringing contamination and disease.

For the farmers of Kathia, Mirpur, Mukhlispur, Bardhanpara, Kamarkhur in the Birbhum district, the annual floods destroy their homes, crops and cattle. Those who survive continue to be overshadowed by the horror of the ongoing flood as well as the oncoming threat of starvation. As houses and sheds collapse, the people, as well as their livestock of cows and goats, ducks, chickens, etc. become homeless.

Things are worse for the migrant workers who had returned to their rural homes from the big cities of Mumbai and Ranchi, when they lost their jobs due to the sudden Covid-19 lockdown. Many had taken to farming on small plots of land to be able to at least feed their families. For instance, I spoke to Bakkar Sheikh and Hojrul Sheikh, both of whom had lost their city jobs in the lockdown. They returned home to their villages in the Birbhum district and took the initiative to cultivate crops on agricultural land. However, soon after planting paddy seeds the rains unleashed devastation and the whole field was submerged. The rice seedlings were destroyed. They are inconsolable as they will also not get any compensation from the government as the crop was not near harvest. “We thought of farming after being unemployed, but now at home the natural disasters are a threat. Our survival has now become a big question in itself. If the situation continues like this, we will lose the battle of life,” they lament.

With flood come snakes!

Reptiles are forced to leave their underground nests when the flood waters rush in. Snakes now have to share living space with humans. However, this is dangerous and many have succumbed to untreated snake bites say the locals. When the flood water rises, residents of low-lying areas take refuge on higher roads or near railways or even in various school and college buildings as they all have concrete floorings. Although emergency relief materials are distributed in these shelters by both government and various voluntary organizations, the supply is always less than required. The packs often just contain uncooked rice, or dry puffed rice, sometimes community kitchens are set up, and serve khichuri or rice-dal porridge. However, those too are not enough, there is no additional supply of nutritional food, such as seasonal vegetables. Some survivors recall that there is no clean water to drink so they have to manage with whatever is supplied.

Floods recede, ill health enters

The end of floods is not the end of trouble. As the flood waters recede, disease comes rushing in. Lack of safe drinking water, inadequate food, no protection from mosquitoes, all result in most survivors suffering from diarrhea, typhoid, dengue or malaria. Many get very sick, and often succumb. Survivors recall that they are even more terrified of what they term, the “post-flood famine.” This is true, Bengal turns into a “famine zone” due to the catastrophic floods and the aftermath.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by researcher Ripon Sheikh, who is travelling around rural Bengal, tracking and documenting social and cultural movements of indigenous people. 

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.



What happens when a ‘school’ drives to the students?

How Sunderban’s Honey Collectors fight all odds to earn their living

Will the 125-year old Bolpur Poush Mela be held this year?

Fighting to keep the pottery industry alive



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Go to Top
Nafrat Ka Naqsha 2023