August’s flooding in Sangli and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra have been historic. River levels washed away all past records many times over. New high flood levels were reached several times at multiple places both in Sangli and Kolhapur. These districts, which form the fertile Black cotton soil belt of Maharashtra, are the floodplains of mighty rivers of the Krishna Basin: Krishna, Koyna, Warna, Panchaganga, Tarli, Urmodi, Dudhganga and Hiranyakeshi.
On August 8, Krishna breached its Highest Flood Level at two places in Maharashtra – Kurundwad and Arjunwad. On the same day, Warna and Panchaganga too crossed their Highest Flood Levels at two places – Samdoli and Terwad in Kolhapur.
While part of the reason of the deluge was incessant rainfall, flood impacts multiplied and were made stark by simultaneous release from massive reservoirs like Koyna, Warna and Radhanagari in the upstream and filling up Upper Krishna or Almatti Dam in the downstream Karnataka.
Slowly, villages and towns have been limping back to normalcy. The destruction wrought by the floods has been momentous. Just in the two districts of Sangli and Kolhapur, more than 6.45 lakh people were evacuated and shifted to safer places. More than 30 people died in flood-related incidents in just that week in five districts of Western Maharashtra. In Sangli, more than 3,450 homes were destroyed by floodwaters.
Abhay Kanvinde toured Western Maharashtra and parts of Northern Karnataka in the first week of September, talked with the residents and captured images of communities trying to regain their homes and lives.
These photos taken in Sangli, Kolhapur and Belgaum show what rivers left in their wake and how resilient communities are rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. Such photo documentation is crucial, lest we forget the human side of the natural disaster and the toll it took on rural communities.
Shashank Chothe from Akivat Village in Shirol Taluka of Sangli showed water levels marks on his house. “Blue line shows level 537 meters in 2006,” he said. “In 2005: The red line shows the highest level reached till now about 538.5 metres. People thought this level will not be breached ever. Village elders do not remember a flood worse than in 2005. But in 2019, water reached the terrace of the house and we had to mark a new flood level about 6 feet higher than 2005. Ninety five percent of the village was underwater.”
He continued: “All of the sugarcane was submerged. In 2005, the water rose gradually, giving us time to plan and shift out. But in 2019, water was at one step on the night before and on the next day, it rose by 1.5 feet to 2 feet in one night. Next day, it rose by 2.5 feet. We got no time to shift or even think. Everything in the house is wet even today. Wall, books, camera, cupboards, clothes. We kept valuables on the loft thinking water will not reach the loft. It never has reached there before. Not even in 2005. But everything got washed away.”
As the government appoints one more Vadnere Committee to look into the reasons and remedies for floods in Western Maharashtra, let us not forget the human side of the tragedy.
This article first appeared on the blog of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.