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With no government help, Mumbai flood victims are on their own

When Surekha Chiplunkar’s home started to flood during recent heavy rains in Mumbai she knew exactly what to do — she had to; catastrophe comes every year and no one else was going to help.

Her family’s tiny ground floor apartment in central Mumbai is one of hundreds of thousands of homes in India’s financial capital that regularly flood during the monsoon months of June to September.

“We grab all of our possessions and move to one of our neighbours on a higher floor until the water subsides,” explains the 60-year-old.

Last week, as floods wreaked unaccustomed havoc across parts of Texas, global news coverage was dominated by scenes of Americans being winched to safety.

People in Houston, America’s fourth biggest city, told reporters of their anguish at being forced from their homes by the unusually fierce Hurricane Harvey, as a sophisticated rescue and recovery operation revved into high gear.

President Donald Trump visited the affected area twice, while his vice president, Mike Pence, also went to assure Texans that the might of the US government was behind them, and would help them pick up the pieces in the wake of a storm that caused tens of billions of dollars’ damage and killed around 60 people.

At the same time, half a world away, monsoon rains were dumping millions of gallons of water on India. Mumbai, a city of around 20 million inhabitants where at least ten people died, was brought to a virtual standstill for two days.

But there were no prime ministerial visits; no pledges of national unity; no promises to help the slum dwellers rebuild their washed-away homes. India largely shrugged and carried on, almost inured to a near-annual tragedy.

“No one from the government comes to check to see if we have managed to survive the floods or not,” said Chiplunker. “People from top floors provide us with food during flooding as we cannot cook for ourselves.”

The help provided by members of the community during a disaster is often referred to, usually by local newspapers and leaders, as the “spirit of Mumbai”.

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