I said good-bye to my study village yesterday, and celebrated their festival Id with them. Gave my thanks for the time I spent there for the past two years and the support and motivation the people of Solmari gave me for my research. While unpacking resilience and recovery debates in Solmari I have discovered layers and linkages within me, and around me that were unknown to me all the while. I would like to share this particular story with all of you.
I first came to Solmari in July 2012, just when it was flooded due to the heavy rains that caused the breach in the embankment. (Image – breached embankment). I am a photographer – researcher, so my memory and mind functions in the form of images. Lasting images that are etched in my mind are that of the run-down school and concrete community building that had borne the brunt of the breach. Few other images are of vast stretches of land filled with river water, shattered houses built under Indira Awaas Yojana, people stranded on the embankment and many others trying to salvage from the ruins. The impact of these images were so powerful in my mind, that I was motivated to return here to understand how the communities recovered post-floods.
As I had been remotely keeping an eye on how things developed here, I found news reports and Oxfam situation updates that there were consecutive waves of floods until October 2012, and people were forced to leave their villages and continue living in camps.
I visited Solmari twice this year in January and in August 2013. It was very evident, that the entire village-land was sand-casted and no agriculture was possible in this land. The repeated onslaught of floods indeed had prolonged the rebuilding of their lives and livelihoods. The urgent needs and concerns of the most vulnerable groups were met by Oxfam interventions. Resilience for them was construction of the new embankment for protection from floods, and raised platforms for shelter during floods. The Panchayat undertook construction of the new embankment, and two raised platforms. The quality and durability of these are questionable as the rains
Today I look back at Solmari, which stands nowhere, lying on the wrong-side of the new embankment, the entire community was forced to relocate without any support from the government. The crops and the tree-cover owned by few, lie exposed to the river, which is eroding the soil everyday. With a focused review of recovery processes in water, sanitation and hygiene practices, I found that it remains the primary challenge, besides land and livelihoods. But the question still remains – what makes Solmari resilient in the larger scheme of things? Without adequate support systems – either from government or non-government organizations, what will catalyze the recovery or redevelopment process?
And this is not the only Solmari in Assam, there were many other villages whose name none remember, that were washed away by Brahmaputra today – except for those to whom it belonged, there will be many more Solmaris this year and the next and in the future as well. I saw a similar pattern, and have heard about decades of erosion stories from my research in Morigaon as well? Where do we draw a line, or is it really ok if such unheard stories of villages gets lost in the relief-resilience-development conundrum?
How do recovery lessons from Assam applied elsewhere like in the case of recent Uttarakhand cloudburst or Cyclone Phailin?