Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CATASTROPHIC BIHAR FLOODS, CATASTROPHIC INDIA'S POLITICIANS


20 LAKH PEOPLE AFFECTED, THOUSANDS UNCONFIRMED DEATHS AS KOSI BREAKS EMBANKMENT IN NEPAL

By Manuwant Choudhary

The river Kosi breaks an embankment just before the Bhimnagar Barrage in Nepal and waters from an angry Kosi flood several districts of north Bihar and some 20 lakh people struggle to escape its fury. And no government help.

After days of the disaster at the embankment the chief minister Nitish Kumar tells the media, "This is not a normal flood, its a catastrophy (pralaya or the end of the world).

But in flooded Bihar people just swim and wade through the torrents to get onto higher levels like the roads and bridges, leaving their entire properties behind.

And the chief minister of Bihar is yet to make a radio announcement warning people that they must get out as early as possible.

The worst affected districts are Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, Purnia, Araria and Katihar.

I spoke to Debashish Bose in Madhepura and he said, "Water has now entered Madhepura town as well. At least 15-16 wards of the 24 wards are already flooded and the waters are now rising. A prison near my home is also being evacuated."

As I spoke with Debashish I could hear in the background some talk of relief. One person said, "We have only five chapatis left." And Debashish replies, "Its a lot. Lets go and distribute what we have."

Just three helicopters airdrop food packets which mostly falls in the water.

But politics seems to have taken over again. India's railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav did an aerial survey like he's been doing for the past 20 years. When he ruled Bihar he would often sleep on those helicopter journeys to survey floods only opening his eyes when the helicopter would return to base in Patna.

Journalists, of course, in our part of the world do not think thats a story so it never made it to the rundown. Thats also because television news channels need the politicians as much as they need the floods.

But this time Laloo is not running Bihar so he has already met India's Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh requesting help for Bihar and attemtping to score a point over his rival Nitish Kumar, "This has happened because Nitish Kumar's government did not repair the embankment."

And now Nitish Kumar also plans to meet India's Prime Minister. Although just days before the floods he had said, "Bihar is fully prepared for the floods."

India's real catastrophy are its politicians. Even in the flooded regions politicians across political parties have spent more time in counting caste votes than on inspecting bunds that were built more than 50 years ago.

As a TV journalist with NDTV I had been covereing floods and I had done a journey up north right upto the mouth of the river Kosi. (without prior approval of NDTV)

I fear for Bihar so I wanted to see for myself.

All along what I saw was a poorly maintained embankment, and the bunds had no trees planted at their sides and the roads over them were simply non-existent.

On the Nepal side of the border the embankments were maintained and there were even trees alongside them. An unmetalled road over it could be used even in the monsoons as they had a machine to level the earth.

When we trekked up to Barah instead of finding officers from Bihar's Water Resources Department manning the flood warning system we found a broken laboratory and a `ghost' bungalow. We preferred to spend the night with locals.

It is at Barah Kshetra that there has been a talk over 50 years that a high dam is to be built but nothing happens.
And now when an embankment has been washed away in Nepal, Nepal's Prime Minister the Maosit Prachanda chooses to visit Beijing (for the Olympics closing), instead of coming to India.

But now I am now fully convinced that a high dam in Nepal is no solution to Bihar's floods.

I recall the clear pristine blue water of the Kosi and how small it looked at Barah and could not imagine its expanse when it reaches our homes in Bihar.

There is a temple of the Lord Vishnu at Barah but so remote is this region that very few Hindus visit this place. We found a few sadhus there but thats all. I asked one of them why this place is called Barah or Wild Boar and he told me the story of a deluge when the entire world was coming to an end and its only then that Lord Vishnu took the form of a wild boar and kept this part of the world above water and thereby saving the world.

As I write this my heart is with countless men, women, children and animals who will survive, if they do at all, only by fate.

But yes, I did my story then as I do it now warning that not just the floods but the real catastrophy is the politicians we elect. They will never solve our problems, not this flood either.

2 comments:

Barun said...

Kosi means sorrow or tear, and river Kosi has changed her course in the past, and it changed again on 24th August, bringing tears to lakhs of people. The course of a river is a natural phenomenon. The real tragedy is that we humans have learned no lesson from the past. Rivers don't break their banks all of a sudden. There would have been plenty of time to detect the weak embankments, strengthen them if possible, or breach the embankment in a controlled manner in an effort to reduce the pressure at some other vulnerable points, or at least warn the population of the possible danger, and advise them to move to safer grounds. Nothing was done, leaving 20 lakh to their fate. This is our India today.

Anonymous said...

Barun corrects the date of the kosi breach of embankment. It happened on August 18.