The Heat Is Online

Floods Spark Food Riots in India

Millions Are Displaced by Floods in India

The New York Times, Aug. 30, 2008


NEW DELHI  Millions of farmers and their families may be displaced for months after severe floods in northern India wiped out crops and homes, leaving hundreds of villages under several feet of water.


The Kosi River in Bihar, one of Indias poorest and most populous states, jumped its banks this week after a dam burst in bordering Nepal, causing the worst floods in the area in 50 years.


Rescue efforts continued on Friday, and boats were dispatched and trains mobilized to find and move millions who have been left stranded by the rising waters. More than 2.1 million people and over 394 square miles have been affected by the flooding, the Bihar government said on Friday. About a quarter of a million people have been evacuated.


Evacuees may not be able to return to their homes, if those homes still exist, until fall, state government officials said. This water will remain for some time, said Devi Rajak, the chief engineer for Bihars water resource department. It may start decreasing in September depending upon upstream discharge.


The breach in the dam that caused the flooding is eight miles inside Nepal, he said, and therefore difficult to gain access to and fix. We are facing labor problems, law and order problems, and logistics problems, he said.


The Nepalese government said that work to fix the break was under way, and that its officials were cooperating with the Indian government. The river has flooded its banks in Nepal as well, displacing tens of thousands of people.

About a quarter of a million homes in India have already been destroyed by the floods, Indian officials say.


The official death toll from the flooding was set at 12 by the Bihar government, but aid workers and people in the area said that number was low, in part because access to the area to assess the damage and recover bodies is limited. ActionAid, an anti-poverty agency based in South Africa, estimates that 2,000 people have died and that thousands more are missing.


We are helpless, Rajiv Kumar Singh, 36, said in a telephone interview from Singheshwar, a village in the flooded Madhepura district of Bihar. Some people have been washed away as their families watched, he said, and survivors have been living for days on the roadside, in government offices or in schools. This whole area is under three or four feet of water, he said, adding that fevers and diarrhea were spreading. There is only one doctor here, and he cannot cater to all the people, he said.


Kamlesh Prasad Singh, 50, a farmer from the village of Patori in the Madhepura district, said in a telephone interview that his village was full of water four or five feet deep. I left my home, my five cattle and my six acres of rice fields behind, he said. I am completely ruined.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared the situation a national calamity on Thursday and said the government had earmarked about $230 million in aid for the region.


Water continued to flow into new areas on Friday, and helicopters, hundreds of military boats and thousands of enlisted personnel were picking up stranded people.

Trains full of supplies were being sent from New Delhi to assist and transport evacuees. The situation is expected to worsen over the weekend, with meteorologists predicting heavy rain in the region.


Food riots as Indian floods destroy 250,000 homes

Reuters News Service, Aug 27, 2008

PATNA, India, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Food riots erupted on Wednesday in eastern India, where more than two million people have been forced from their homes and about 250,000 houses destroyed in what officials say are the worst floods in 50 years.

One person was killed in Madhepura district when angry villagers fought among themselves over limited supplies of food and medicines at overcrowded relief centres.

The Kosi river in
Bihar, one of India's poorest states, smashed through mud embankments and changed course last week, unleashing huge walls of water that inundated hundreds of villages and towns.

The floods have since killed nearly 50 people in

Torrential rains have killed more than 1,000 people in
South Asia since the monsoon began in June, mainly in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh but also in Nepal and Bangladesh.

Some experts blame the floods on heavier monsoon rains caused by global warming, while others say authorities have failed to take enough preventive measures to improve infrastructure.

Officials said flood victims had looted grains at some places in
Bihar. Others ran for miles under helicopters that were dropping food packets. One boy was killed and about 30 people were injured in Supaul district when food packets fell on them.

"We have enough stock of food grains but the problem is that we have limited means of transport to supply them among the villagers," Rajesh Kumar Gupta, a government official in Madhepura, told Reuters by telephone.

Several prisoners took advantage of the floods and escaped from a jail in Supaul on Tuesday night, officials said.

"We are having difficulty in getting the exact number of prisoners who fled since communication networks have totally snapped," said Nitish Kumar,
Bihar's chief minister.

The U.N. children's fund UNICEF said roads had been damaged and water and electricity supplies disrupted in the affected areas. Railway tracks have been submerged and essential commodities, including food, are being transported by boat.


Those displaced by the floods are not expected to be able to return home for another two or three months, when the embankment is repaired and the river moves back to its normal course.

"We are appealing to villagers to evacuate the (flooded) areas,"
Bihar's Kumar said in a radio address on Tuesday.

"They must understand that they are right in middle of the river and the monsoon season is still in progress."

Local people call the Kosi the "Sorrow of Bihar" for its regular floods and ability to change course quickly. It originates in
Nepal, where it broke a dam last week.

UNICEF said cases of diarrhoea and fever were being reported in makeshift camps.

"The weather has been extremely hot, aggravating the suffering of the displaced population, particularly for children, pregnant and lactating women and the aged," it said.

Television images showed people using banana tree trunks and cots to stay afloat, some even with their cattle and goats.

Officials said floods had destroyed more than 227,000 homes and damaged about 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of wheat and paddy crops.

Last year, floods in eastern
India and Bangladesh killed around 2,000 people. Millions were affected and officials fear climate change will make similar disasters more frequent.

Engineers began repairing the broken dam on the Kosi river in
Nepal on Wednesday to prevent it from causing further damage. (Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma in Nepal; Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Paul Tait)

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