Advocate Abdul Ahad was visiting his village Matiarchar at Chormollah Union in Chhatak with some aid for the flood-afflicted people. He did not have a good night's sleep, he was visibly tired, but he had to deliver whatever aid he had brought along for his village.
"People in our village have received no support from anyone so far," Ahad said. "People are going hungry."
A lawyer by profession, he lives in the Jauwabazar area near the Sunamganj-Sylhet highway. Ahad's residence here has also been inundated with the worst flood that Chhatak and the greater Sylhet region has ever seen.
But his worst nightmare is not the water. His nightmare comes in the night, on long, slender engine boats – the bandits.
The night before we met him, they came in the middle of the night and attacked his house.
"But we were awake. As we began to scream, more people joined us from the neighbouring houses. The bandits ran away," Ahad said.
This flood in Sunamganj has left two kinds of people in its wake: the first kind is like Ahad, who have suffered but not all is lost, and the other kind, who lost everything to the flood.
Consequently, even though some managed to protect themselves from the reigning hunger, no one is actually spared from the bandits, or the numbing fear of robbery that has gripped everybody in Sunamganj.
Zakir Hossain from Mofiz Nagar of Jamalganj Upazila, for example, somehow saved his livestock after the flood left his house teetering and damaged all his property. One night, the bandits came and robbed him of his livestock.
Narrating Zakir Hossain's fate, his neighbour, a boatman Rashid Mia, said, "the bandits switch off their boat engine from far away. They attack houses swiftly and tell the residents 'do you fear more for your life or your belongings? Hand us over everything and we will go away.'"
Thanks to boatmen like Rashid and others who travel in water amid a breakdown of all forms of electronic communication, the news of increasing robbery attacks has spread like wildfire across all the flooded regions.
As a result, at nighttime, the fear of robbery keeps flood victims awake, while their day passes in hunger in their dilapidated houses infested with diseases, snakes, mosquitos, etc.
Spending a sleepless night in the flooded village of Rahimpur in Kharchar Haor, we saw how the night turns unsafe for everyone, and the flooded villages become troubled waters.
"If I fail to cross the haor to get into the river before nightfall, I have to switch off the engine and spend the night in the haor," said Mushahid, a boatman who took us to Rahimpur village. "Whenever an engine boat passes by in the dark of night, people think they are bandits. I can become an innocent victim if I am not careful," Mushahid said, by way of describing the panic that has gripped the people.
Going hungry in troubled waters
Steering the aid boat we managed to board, we travelled through different waters of Jamalganj Upazila. At one point, Mushahid lost his way as the flood wiped out all his known landmarks. Moreover, he was from the Tahirpur Upazila, where he drove boathouses in the Tanguar Hoar. This water was actually unfamiliar to him.
But more appalling than losing our way in a merciless flood was witnessing children screaming for relief from either side of the waters, as we passed them on the way to our destination. The volunteers travelling with us were breaking down every moment of the journey after witnessing, first-hand, how hunger affected these children and their families.
While many in the team wanted to start distributing the aid right away, their team leader insisted that they distribute relief only in target areas. However, while still lost, we passed a village named Niamatpur where the volunteers slowed the boat to feed some hungry mouths.
Fazlu Mia, an elderly man, raced towards the boat with his dinghy for some food.
"We have been suffering, son," he said. "We don't have food. We are starving. No one came to help us."
Even if others crowding near our boat did not tell us about the hunger they were enduring, you could see it in their eyes.
This story of hunger is apparent all over Sunamganj's flooded areas.
Abdur Razzak from Shantiganj Upazila's Mohammadpur village, Jamaluddin from Dowarabazar Upazila's Jolshi village, Mahendra of Jamlaganj's Nitaipur village – we talked to dozens of people who either received little, or no relief at all. They are all suffering from extreme hunger, with a looming crisis of water-borne disease on the cards.
Dilapidated households infested with snakes and lurking diseases
One evening when Nitaipur's Mahendra was about to rest on his bed - which he raised by laying a few beds atop each other - he found a big snake crawling on a rope hanging from his ceiling.
"I got very scared. I immediately got down, took my lance, speared the snake and killed it," Mahendra said. "Ever since the floods, we frequently discover snakes in our house. Everyone is scared when they crawl into our beds."
It is not only the snakes; on the night we spent in the flooded area in a boat in Rahimpur, Jamalganj, we experienced the vicious infestation of mosquitoes in the areas. As the water recedes, skin diseases and cases of diarrhoea are gradually showing up.
Several people in Nitaipur, Rahimpur, Hoirarpur, Arshinagar villages told us about the increasing presence of certain water-borne diseases in their areas. With water further stagnating, the coming days might see a massive crisis, with water-borne diseases becoming an epidemic in the Sylhet division.
Mahendra, an elderly man from Nitapur said that he had never seen a flood like this before. The water may have receded a bit, but the multidimensional suffering of the flood-afflicted people may exacerbate in the coming days, to a degree that no one has experienced before.