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Thu 28 Aug 2008 01:12 PM

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120,000 Indians evacuated after floods

Army sent in as more bad weather raises fears that rivers will continue to overflow.

Indian army troops helped evacuate more than 120,000 people from floods in eastern India, but more bad weather raised fears that rivers would to continue to overflow, officials said on Thursday.

The flooding, which officials say are the worst in 50 years, was caused after the Kosi river broke a dam in Nepal where it originates, unleashing huge waves of water that smashed mud embankments downstream in Bihar state.

Many villagers offered prayers and slaughtered goats to appease the Kosi, known as Bihar's "river of sorrow" for its regular floods and ability to change course.

"We are praying to the river goddess and offering her blood since only she can help us", a village woman in the worst affected Supaul district told a local newspaper.

At least two million people have been forced from their homes and a quarter of a million houses destroyed. So far 55 deaths have been officially reported in Bihar, but activists and local media put the toll many times higher.

Stranded villagers complained of an unbearable stench from rotting carcasses and the United Nations warned of the spread of water-borne disease.

TV stations showed swirling flood waters pouring into homes through windows, submerging hundreds of villages and roads and railway tracks. Telephone and power lines snapped.

Torrential rains have killed more than 1,000 people in South Asia since the monsoon began in June, mainly in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 725 people have lost their lives. Other deaths were reported from Nepal and Bangladesh.

Some experts blame the floods on heavier monsoon rains caused by global warming, while others say authorities have failed to take preventive measures and improve infrastructure.

"The administration is misleading people about the casualty, I have myself seen some 40 dead bodies at a village in Araria district alone," flood expert Dinesh Kumar Mishra told The Times of India newspaper.

The newspaper quoted a villager from a badly affected district as saying he had seen at least 250 bodies at one place.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party, flew over devastated areas by helicopter on Thursday.

State officials told Reuters more than 120,000 had been evacuated and kept in more than 100 temporary camps, but bad weather was hampering rescue and relief operations.

"We have the army, disaster management teams, police and other groups of rescuers making every effort to save the population," said R.K. Singh, a top disaster management official.

Officials said floods had destroyed more than 227,000 homes and damaged about 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of vegetables, wheat and paddy crops. (Reuters)

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David Strelneck 12 years ago

In 2006 eight social entrepreneurs in India spent months investigating clues for solutions to the tragic devastation caused by Bihar floods. They identified through extensive field interviews that, beyond levees now triggering massively bigger deluges than smaller floods of past centuries, the causes of deep human disaster include local economics and politics which distort flood control and flood relief and often take deliberate advantage of the victims. The saddest conclusion, of course, is that for years the human devastation in Bihar has been predictable, almost reliable, months in advance of the floods each year, and not because of nature and rain, but because of economics and politics. Their assessment reveals how flood relief is foreseen by many as a “third harvest,” with private sector and government middlemen buying, selling, and bribing rights to relief supplies months before the floods even arrive, bargaining away goods, property and even children to the sex trade in exchange for promises of flood relief or access to flood management funds. It is terrible, and it has implications for national and international media, businesses and bankers, relief agencies, citizens, and many others.