The Heat Is Online

Intense Rains Displace 200,000 People in India and Nepal

More than 200,000 hit by floods in India, Nepal, July 21, 2011
GUWAHATI, India (AlertNet) – Floods and landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains have forced more 200,000 people from their homes in northeast India and neighbouring Nepal, and killed almost 80 people, government officials said on Monday.   
South Asia experiences monsoon rains from June to September, which are vital for its agriculture. But the rains frequently affect millions of people in countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal - devastating crops, destroying homes and sparking outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery.   
Officials in India's northeast oil- and tea-rich state of Assam described the situation as "alarming". Two days of incessant rains have inundated hundreds of villages and forced residents to seek refuge on higher ground. Hundreds also remain stranded.   
"Our priority now is to rescue marooned people. The situation is really bad and if the rain continues, people in affected areas will have a tough time," said a senior government official in Guwahati, Assam's main city.    
The official, who declined to be named, said four people had died in Assam and around 200,000 had been displaced after more than 200 villages in the state's Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts were submerged. Thousands of hectares of paddy crops are estimated to have been damaged.   
Across the border in Nepal, officials said at least 73 people had been killed by landslides and floods, and another 25 were missing, since the start of the monsoon season last month. Around 750 people have been evacuated due to the threat of more landslides in Rukum district in the west of the Himalayan nation.    
"Some of them are housed in tented camps and in schools while some people are staying with their relatives because of the danger to their houses from landslides," said home ministry official Bal Krishna Panthi.     
Relief and rescue workers in Nepal said they were on alert and had started planting red flags along parts of the Kosi river to warn villagers of the potential flood threat.   
The Kosi river in eastern Nepal remains a key concern for both India and Nepal after it broke its banks in 2008 and changed its course, submerging swathes of land and affecting more than two million people in the east Indian state of Bihar.
Monsoon rains often cause rivers like the mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries to rise to dangerous levels and overflow, inundating vast low-lying areas.   
Last year, more than 18 million people in Pakistan were hit by floods and one-fifth of the country - an area the size of Italy - was submerged in one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent times.    
Eye-witnesses in India's worst-hit region of Assam said people were trying to reach higher ground by wading for kilometres through gushing waist-high waters.   
Others - trying to salvage what they could from their homes before the floods destroyed everything - carried sacks of rice or wheat grains on their heads as they made for government relief camps.   
Officials said rescue teams from India's National Disaster Response Forces - equipped with diving gear, inflatable boats, lifebuoys and life jackets - have been deployed to villages cut off by the flood waters.
Other parts of India are also threatened.   
Heavy rainfall in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh state, which borders China, have caused landslides which have blocked roads and disrupted telecommunications and power networks.   
In the northern flood-prone state of Uttar Pradesh, local authorities are preparing for the worst in its low-lying regions.   
"The situation can worsen anytime if we get incessant heavy rains, even for a couple of days, and it will affect at least 250 to 300 villages in just one district," said a government officer in the eastern district of Balrampur.   
Last year, flooding in the state left over 1.5 million people homeless and over 500,000 hectares of crops damaged.