The government of the Indian state of Bihar has admitted that half the state is under water and almost 3 million people have been affected in flash floods in recent weeks. Relief and rescue operations have intensified with hundreds of defence personnel joining local officials in evacuating millions of marooned people.
Villagers wade through floodwaters in the northern Indian state of Bihar
Over 3 million people in 1,600 villages spread over 16 districts have been affected by the floods and the water continues to rise submerging more settlements. Though all three wings of the defence forces are involved in the evacuation of marooned people and relief operations, there has been no respite from the surging waters of the River Kosi as it continues to flood new areas of Saharsa, Supaul, Araria, Madhepura and Purnea - the worst affected districts.
Despite the air-dropping of food packets and with some 150,000 people sheltered in 172 relief camps, thousands continue to suffer from lack of food and clean drinking water. The floods have claimed 35 lives so far, including 20 people who died Friday when the boat they were travelling in capsized in Madhepura. Asha Devi from Purnea and a mother of four, has not had a square meal in the last week. Her house was submerged in the floods. “It has been extremely difficult for the last seven days. There’s a huge problem for food and water,” she said.
Rise in crime
In the midst of this sorrow and suffering criminals and anti-social elements are looting abandoned houses and robbing hapless evacuees at gun point. Dozens of robberies have been reported from Madhepura, Supaul and Saharsa. Besides, even boatmen have looted flood victims in the name of rescuing them, say police.
Thousands of people have fled their homes, taking only the bare essentials with them and leaving behind everything else. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar warned of stern action against those found robbing people in flood-affected areas. G. Sridhar, the district magistrate of Purnea, explained the nature of relief operations: "We have members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) with motor boats that reached Purnea yesterday, who are on the job since the morning. Today we received two more teams comprising of 34 and 44 members with row boats and water boats each day.”
The Kosi river, sometimes called the 'Sorrow of Bihar', changed its course after almost two centuries following a breach in an embankment upstream in Nepal. Aid agencies said authorities should have done more to anticipate the disaster and plan relief operations in a region hit by monsoon flooding every year. In contrast to the situation caused by regular annual flooding, there is little hope that the waters of the Kosi will recede soon.