Karang Island located in the middle of Loktak Lake in Manipur was recently in the news for its COVID-free status during the second wave of the pandemic. The Imphal Free Press had published a news report on how the island village remained untouched by the virus when the state has been hit hard this time. However, the people there, whose only source of livelihood is fishing, have been suffering the impact of the ongoing curfew imposed to contain the spread of the pandemic. Yet another major problem facing the villagers is the onslaught of the approaching months where the island will be surrounded by floating biomass from all sides, a usual phenomenon that happens every year. This will double their problems in making ends meet. In apprehension of the coming months, people of Karang have sought the state government’s attention to ease their problem.
Karang Island, situated about 54 km away from the state capital Imphal, is socio-economically deprived region of Manipur, with a population of just about 3500 to 4000 people.
A natural phenomena, dispersed floating biomass floating above Loktak Lake would gather together and surround the island from all sides which would cut off the waterways to the island. The natural event usually begins from May or June and will continue to remain so for almost five to six months. This is the hardest period for the inhabitants of Karang. The impending months pose a nightmare for them while they struggle for survival during this ongoing pandemic.
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During a visit to this island by this Imphal Free Press reporter, Karang Island Development Organization (KIDO) advisor Haobijam Gitajen said that with the onset of this pandemic, Karang people are facing several untold problems as majority of them are poverty-stricken.
Adding to their woes during the monsoon months is the surrounding of the island by floating biomass that block normal water ways.
Amid the rising tension in the region, Gitajen said Karang to Hourang Chingang, Karang to Chingjing Mamang, Karang to Sendra, Karang to Phubala, Karang to Ningthoukhong, Karang to Mayang Imphal and Karang to Chingthi is the main water route for Karang people to connect to other parts of the state.
Once the road is being blocked by biomass as a seasonal phenomenon, people decrease their mobility and travel only in case of emergency.
"Being an island region, we only commute through waterways and everything is being imported by manual or engine boat. It is just like a customary practice to pile up all the basic needs for these five to six months that block the waterways by biomass. This is how we manage our life during the pandemic months… But we are clueless now how to survive this time as due to curfew we couldn't arrange anything to stock up our needs," he lamented.
Gitajen also pointed out that there are many untoward incidents that happen during this season even during pre-COVID period. He said that they are grateful for the negligible cases of Coronavirus infections in the island so far, as an outcome of the community's effort to combat this dreaded virus. Yet people of Karang are highly apprehensive of this season that blocks their waterways.
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While suggesting the state government to extend some possible support, he said that as the pandemic is going on, the state government should arrange at least proper medical support for this region. The primary health centre located at Karang should avail the facilities of 24x7 service. Along with this, the state government should arrange some mechanism of procurement of fish caught by fishermen or dry fish. He further appealed to provide some edible items for this region, at least this season.
One of the women from Karang, Ibemcha (name changed) who is in 70s said that fishing is their only source of income as such they continue to do this activity even during this pandemic to run their family. But due to the closure of the market, their income has been hit hard.
"We know we all are responsible to combat this pandemic. However, poor people like me would be very grateful if the state government extended some help to run my family. At least arranging some strategy for the fish market like the agriculture market, which was started by Mission Organic Manipur, by the state government would help to a great extent," she added.