Kolkata, May 29 (IANS) Hundreds of villages in West Bengal continued to be marooned, with saltwater intrusion destroying crops and rendering vast stretches of land fallow in the Sundarbans area in the aftermath of Cyclone Aila as authorities upped the death count to 117 Friday.
While the government had pegged the toll at 115 Thursday, two more deaths were reported from Darjeeling overnight, state Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta told reporters.
After a high level stock-taking meeting at the state secretariat, Dasgupta said 5.3 million people have so far been affected by Cyclone Aila, which pummeled coastal areas of the state, uprooting trees, snapping power cables and leaving a trail of destruction Monday in 13 of the 19 districts.
Nearly 600,000 houses have been fully or partially damaged in the calamity.
Save the Children, an NGO carrying out relief operations in the remote Sundarbans mangrove forest areas of North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas district, said hundreds of villages were still under water, with most of them inaccessible.
'And with each passing day, the risk of a major outbreak of water-borne diseases increases,' said Thomas Chandy, CEO of Save the Children.
'People living in these villages desperately need access to fresh drinking water as the groundwater sources are feared to be contaminated by saltwater intrusion,' he added.
Farida, a 15-year-old in Rajbati village in Sandeskhali I, said she was forced to move from a relief camp to live under the open skies as the shelter neither had water nor a toilet.
'My house was completely destroyed. There is water everywhere. We stayed in a relief camp the first two days. But there was no water to drink and it was stinking as there was no toilet. We moved out and are now living on the street.
'I have no fresh clothes to wear. And I don't know what happened to my friends. We went to the same learning centre in the village and I have no clue where they are now.'
The relief workers of the NGO saw villagers pulling out bodies from the debris.
The saltwater intrusion has destroyed the paddy crop and rendered the land fallow for one or two years, while the floods washed away seeds stock, killed livestock and wiped out all stocks of freshwater fish and shrimp.
A villager said: 'It will take several years for us to recover from these losses. My children have lost all the books that we bought them. I'm not sure how they will be able to continue their education next year.'