Monday, September 15, 2008

Thousands of Indians seek refuge from floods in Nepal

By: IRIN News

Rekha Devi and her four children have no idea when they will return to India. Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
SAPTARI, 15 September 2008 (IRIN) - Thousands of Indians have taken refuge in Nepal's eastern Saptari District, 300km southeast of the capital, Kathmandu, after heavy flooding in Nepal and their home state of Bihar.

The floods occurred after the Koshi River - Nepal's largest, which straddles the India-Nepal border - burst its banks on 18 August.

Some 70,000 Nepalese nationals are displaced, while the situation in neighbouring Bihar is reportedly worse. Indian officials report that more than 250,000 people are displaced, with over three million affected as of the first week of September.

Many villagers from Bihar's Supaul District fled to Nepal as it was easier to access than crossing the flooded areas to Indian relief camps.

In addition, they were closer to the eastern districts of Nepal, the displaced families told IRIN.

Many of the displaced heard that it was quicker to receive food and shelter in the Nepalese camps as the numbers of displaced were significantly fewer than in India.

"It may take us more than five or six months to return home, as we have nothing left now and the Indian government has told us that we have to remain in camps for many months before the water levels recede," said Kalanand Jha from Supaul District, one of the 13 most affected areas of north Bihar.

More than 1,000 villages were reportedly heavily affected by the floods, the Indian government said.

"I have nothing left. I lost all my cash I had saved for my family, my house. All I have now is my children," the mother-of-four lamented.

According to aid agencies, the Indian government has been digging new channels to direct the course of the Koshi River and repair roads and embankments broken by the flood to improve access.

However, it will likely take between three and six months before the displaced Indian families will be able to return safely home.

Challenges for aid agencies in Nepal

There are up to 7,000 flood-displaced Indians now living in the relief camps in Nepal, where they are living separately in tented camps or school buildings in Sunsari and Saptari districts.

Relief workers say they occupy approximately 20-30 percent of the camps.

Meanwhile, the Nepalese government and relief agencies have begun the process of registering the displaced.

"There is no clear picture of the displaced families from India. This is important to assess their vulnerability," Sanjeev Kafle, director of disaster management of the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), said.

The NRCS is helping the Nepalese government to register the displaced families for long-term humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian aid for Indian families

"I can't return now and I don't want to travel all the way to live in another camp," Rekha Devi, 32, with three girls and a one-year-old son, said in the Bhardaha area of Saptari.

She and her children had fled with 11 relatives from Hridayanagar village of Supaul District, neighbouring Nepal's south-eastern region, and are staying in Kankalni Madhyamik School with many other Indian families.

Local NGOs and international aid agencies and the Nepalese government have been providing food, drinking water, clothing and other necessary humanitarian assistance, according to families.

However, new challenges will likely emerge.

"Although Nepal's government and aid agencies have not discriminated against the Indians with humanitarian assistance, the country can't afford to continue to do the same for a long time," said one local aid worker, who asked not to be named.

The financial resources may not be sufficient in the months to come, he said.

According to local government authorities, the country planned to provide nine months' support for the Nepalese families, while there was no certainty over the fate of the Indian ones.

"It is possible that they will be supported with emergency aid for another two to three months. But the Nepal and Indian governments should seriously think of how to help the affected Indian families displaced in Nepal," said the relief worker.


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