Monday, September 01, 2008

India battles devastating floods


The flood waters have swamped large areas of Bihar

Pressure is building on the Indian government to do more for half a million people stranded by devastating floods in the state of Bihar.

A BBC correspondent reports chaotic scenes as soldiers try to reach those cut off and people attempt to scramble from rooftops into rescue boats.

With 1.2 million people homeless, India is struggling to cope with the crisis.

The flood waters are spreading to new areas, and conditions in relief camps are overcrowded and unsanitary.

The floods are known to have killed at least 75 people in Bihar - but the death toll could climb once the situation in remote areas emerges.

Large areas remain totally submerged, with reports suggesting that some villages have simply been washed away by strong currents.

Tens of thousands of people have also been displaced in neighbouring Nepal, where some of those who have lost their homes are camping under plastic sheets.

Disorganisation

Fights have been breaking out among people desperate to board 800 overcrowded army boats - each of which can carry between one and two dozen people - that have been deployed to help the evacuation process.

map

The temporary relief camps are being supported by volunteers and community groups, and a lack of central co-ordination is hampering the relief process.

Visiting the Bageecha relief camp in Purnea, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder could find no camp co-ordinator or government official in charge of distributing aid.

Trucks and vans carrying relief material stood parked on the highway as volunteers waited to be organised.

Several tonnes of aid had arrived but the volunteers were not quite sure how to distribute it.

The situation was symptomatic of what was happening across Bihar's flood-affected areas, our correspondent says.

Massive costs

The disaster began on 18 August when a dam burst on the Saptakoshi river in Nepal.

The Saptakoshi, which becomes the Kosi when it enters India, subsequently broke its banks in Bihar.

Officials in Nepal say hundreds of people there have been hit by illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, and an estimated 50,000 are homeless.

They say nearly 1,000 houses have been completely destroyed. Power supplies and transport have been severely affected.

The costs to the economy are now estimated at one billion Nepalese rupees ($14.25m).

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