Assam vs. Covid-19, floods and diseases
By: Lata Moni Das
The 2020 will go down in the history of humankind as the most devastating of all times. Presently, among other problems Assam is battling the onslaught of ‘unstoppable’ Corona virus on one hand, and on the other floods, erosion and water borne diseases that plague the state every year. For the first time in our times, a health issue has become a law and order situation, with penalties imposed against violators of the lockdown. As if the perennial flooding wasn’t enough, and as if to add salt to injury, nature unleashed extra helping of waters from the skies to further devastate the state, which is already reeling under severe economic related problems arising out of the pandemic and lockdown.
So fighting a multi-pronged battle isn’t going to be easy for a state like Assam, which is often beset by corrupt practices in its governance, which in itself is nothing less than a plague that has deprived the state of its share of development, and a permanent solution to the deluge.
For nearly 5 months now, since March normal life has been paralysed and economy of the country badly battered by the Covid-19 virus. All attempts to stop the spread of the virus have failed and on the contrary, the situation has gone viral now with even rural areas reporting positive cases on regular basis – meaning the community transmission process, which everyone feared, has gone out of hand.
Assam is no stranger to flooding during rainy seasons. But to make matter worse, the state is experiencing cloudbursts almost every other day, catching even the government departments unawares. Floods mean sorrow. Villages inundated, crop loss, damage to property, people displaced and forced into refuge in camps, breach in connectivity and death are the usual scenario that the state faces. To top it all the state battles the monster that comes with floods – the water-borne diseases. Under the current pandemic scenario, the situation arising out of the pandemonium can only be imagined. The thought of it is enough to send chills of horror in the minds of the thinker.
River Brahmaputra is stated to be flowing above the danger mark at various places in the state and its tributaries have already spilled waters everywhere affecting 26 districts with 81 dead in flood related incidents, 26 in landslides, not counting the death of livestock and loss of houses and other property. Floods and its effects have reduced the farmers to sheer penury. Despite all the claims of relief distribution the government makes in the media, the reality is far from truth. In Tinsukia district apart from Covid-19, floods and diseases, people of Baghjan area have been displaced and rendered homeless due to the explosion and blaze in the oil wells that has spanned over a month. That remains another major headache for the state.
Now the health warriors are left to wage a multi-pronged war. With hospitals running short of beds to accommodate Covid-19 patients, the number of patients is going to swell in thousands in the wake of outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis (which has already caused some deaths), malaria, cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid etc. These diseases are fed by the poor living conditions in the makeshift camps making women and children more vulnerable. These have also set a perfect condition for the Covid-19 virus to spread rapidly.
The covid warriors themselves stand at risk of contacting the virus. Already, nearly a thousand personnel in the police force have been found positive with two deaths reported. The transmission among doctors, nurses and health workers is what is keeping everyone worried. With a sick health department, it would be impossible to win the battle. So far as the infrastructures and administration in the health department is concerned, it is far from satisfactory, especially in the rural areas.
Although the recovery rate from Covid-19 is an encouraging sign of immunity among the people from the virus, the perennial problems of floods and related issues do not insulate the population from retransmission and recycling of the diseases.
According to the report of ASDMA, the flood situation in the state is more frightening than before. A recent study on the state economy has also predicted that covid-19 and flood impacts could push half the state population into poverty and unemployment rate will also increase to 16% to 27% from the present 8%. Covid-19 has already left the country’s economy in shatters, unemployment to all time high and development issues in the lurch, surviving this catastrophe and bouncing back to normal would be a matter of grave concern. To bring the economy to the normal track the state government must support all micro small and medium enterprises to avail the benefits from its various schemes like ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’. There are more than 66,000 industries in the state, out of which 99.9% are MSMEs and if the sanctioned amount is used to gear up this potential sector then apart from contributing to the state GDP, more direct and indirect employment is expected to be generated, which might ease the unemployment burden.