Resilience amid disaster: Despite all, life goes on
Bridges collapsed, roads washed away or blocked. Vehicles stranded here and there. Lives were lost. Nagaland was virtually brought to a standstill this monsoon season. The abnormal rains this monsoon caught the citizens of Nagaland off guard; the state’s government scrambled its machineries to reach out to the affected. Even the Indian Air force (IAF) joined in to provide relief materials to the people in the areas that were blocked or cut off from the main towns by the landslides. This was so especially in the eastern regions of Nagaland. The most-affected district was Kiphire. Mother Nature was at its worst.
To get first-hand information from the ground level and to have an independent assessment of the toll from the monsoon rains, Eastern Mirror deputed a team to some of the districts in the last week of August. The journey, which lasted for nearly a week, took the team along treacherous roads and areas lashed by torrential rains. They met with new people. The idea was to try understanding the plight of the people caused by the unforeseen natural calamity in the state.
The Eastern Mirror kept Kiphire district, the most severely affected, as the main centre of attention. The resilience of the citizens of Kiphire district in the face of havoc, the way they looked at life with courage was something that won the admiration of the visiting team.
Nagaland is a state located on the sub-Himalayan range which geologists call a young mountain range. The state is prone to geological displacement. Landslides were a common feature in the past too. Small bridges being washed away were also not an unheard-of phenomenon, and people drowning in flood waters was almost an annual affair. But what the monsoon brought to the state this year was different, and on an entirely unprecedented level.
What happened this year? Nagaland received much more rains than previous years; but then the state should have been well prepared for it.
Kohima town also took a big brunt of the monsoon fury. With the population ever-increasing and the living space becoming smaller, disasters in the form of mudslides are expected to happen.
A geography professor at Nagaland University had on earlier occasion warned that the soil especially in Kohima area (along the Japfu mountain range) was of loose formation. The warning was that unless a mechanism to understand the soil formation, and regulate building structures, and the tonnage of transport and goods carriers for instance, there would be ‘similar problems in the years to come.’
To be honest, the road to Phek and Meluri was in a pathetic condition. The Eastern Mirror team had to take road diversions after diversions to reach the destination. At Meluri, just a few kilometres away from the town, the highway connecting Kiphire district had sank deeply. There were signs that it would sink further. What was more worrying was that, even for a layman, it was evident that it would take months, if not years, to repair the road. The soil in this area is a mixture of small rocks — some soft sandstone and some hard granite — which is unstable. The diversion road through Meluri was repaired on a war-footing, but the thick sludge along the steep road, about a kilometre in length, would be a trucker’s nightmare. The road is also about three times longer than the NH that connects Kiphire from Tuensang.
Kiphire, with all its beautiful hills, clear water and beautiful people, is still looking at hard days ahead.
We can call them brave hearts. Watching them ferry 50-kilo rice bag on their head over the loose soil — nearly 300 meters of what was once the highway connecting the district with Tuensang and the rest of the state — was heart-wrenching. One small misstep, then they would fall into the rushing Zungki River.
The completely collapsed road will take years to rebuild, unless some ingenious engineering feat is achieved. The other road to Aghanato sub-division was also blocked as the bridge over Tizu River had collapsed.
The Bolero, in which the Eastern Mirror team was travelling, could cross the river, thanks to providence and skills of the driver. The stay at Kiphire was quite expensive, but it was understandable as essential commodities were running low in the town.
“We could not find meat in the market, so we only brought eggs,” said the stewardess at the govt. guest house apologetically. The bill for eight plates of rice with eggs and one breakfast came up to INR 4,200. But that’s reasonable as even rice was being rationed in the town.
The district administration seemed to be doing its best to ameliorate the situation. “We have very little machineries,” said a young EAC posted at Kiphire, “All the machineries are deployed at the Meluri side for repairing the road diversion. That is our only chance now.”
The road from Aghanato – Mokokchung could have taken only a little more than 3 hours, but a massive landslide at one crucial point, triggered by an earlier rain, stranded a goods-laden truck bound for Kiphire. A JCP excavator was pressed into action to clear the mud, but the vibration generated by its engines triggered more mud to slide down. The only way out was to divert to Zunheboto town and Mokokchung.
Mokokchung, as compared to other districts, was not that affected this time except in some pockets of the town and villages.
The road to Noksen town was as interesting as the road to Kiphire. The sludge often made the Bolero to skid and careen, nearly leading the vehicle off the road into the ravine. The experienced driver’s skills saved the day. Though, essential commodities were air-dropped to Noksen after the roads were damaged when the monsoon was at its worst, the situation had improved somehow. But Longra village, one of the biggest villages in Tuensang district, was isolated after landslides damaged the road. The main road from Noksen to Tuensang is also completely cut off from the rest of the state; it will take months to repair.
“This road is very important for us because we are under Tuensang district and for any administrative works we have to go to Tuensang,” said the Headmaster of Noksen Middle School.
A hitchhiker by the name S. Lemba Chang, who is a cardamom farmer, informed that the essential commodities were available in the village, but expressed concern on the neighbouring villages that were still cut off from the main areas. Interestingly, he said that his cardamom seeds were ready for harvesting. He said that he harvested 1000 kg (one ton) last year and sold it for INR 600/- per kilo, earning a total of Rs 6 lakh.
Doyang valley reportedly experienced an unprecedented overflow of water from its reservoir. The water inundated large swathes of fields in the vicinity. Some turmeric fields in the area cultivated by non-Naga farmers were also completely washed away when the river changed its course. Thick sludgy silt was all that was left after the water subsided.
A farmer, Mhabeni, whose husband was away, informed that her paddy fields were completely washed away. “This year we don’t know what we will eat. We used to cultivate paddy for our daily consumption,” said the woman.
The recent disaster should be an eye-opener for all. Mother Nature cannot be predicted or controlled, but one can mitigate damage.
A prominent sentiment that the team observed all through the journey, and one that we thoroughly admired, was the resilience of the people; being able to smile amid hardship; being able to share with those in need; and being optimistic even in the face of misfortune. Perhaps, that is what keeps the Nagas going, but that does not mean the state should be complacent. The advancing monsoon is over, and the retreating monsoon will come soon. Monsoon will come every year and it could cause havoc like this year; how prepared are we? It is time to take concrete actions.