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Bihar is hungry, desperate

Patna, August 5
A week of heavy rains has turned green fields into vast expanses of water across much of Bihar with millions of people driven from their flooded homes, huddling together on stretches of raised embankments, on roofs and bridges — hungry, thirsty and desperate.

Many of the displaced are yet to get any food packets or water. Most are fighting for survival with virtually nothing to eat. They are sleeping under the open sky and forced to drink the polluted flood water. Help from the sky is their elusive last hope.

Every time a helicopter or a small plane hovers into the sky, their hopes rise thinking at last they would get some food. But it turns into disappointment as the planes go by without dropping packets. It has been so for the last four days.

Reports pouring in from different flood-hit areas paint a harrowing picture of the miseries of the people. There is acute shortage of essential medicines as well as doctors in rural areas hit by floods.

About 10.8 million people, of the state’s 82 million, have been affected in nearly 5,000 villages across 18 of Bihar’s 38 districts in what officials say has been the worst flooding in three decades, preliminary estimates by the disaster management department say.

Nature’s fury has claimed over 80 lives, destroyed hundreds of homes and simply cut off several districts.

The state government on Sunday pressed four helicopters of the Indian Air Force to air-drop relief packets in the worst-hit Madhubani and Darbhanga districts. On Saturday, two IAF helicopters were pressed into service for the first time to air drop 2,440 relief packets in Darbhanga district.

According to official sources, each 5 kg packet contains 4.5 kg of sattu (ground gram), half kg of salt, candles and match box. There has been no move to provide safe drinking water bottles to the marooned people.

“Many are living dangerously on embankments, highways, rooftops and any high place they find to keep alive,” an official admitted.

The worst hit districts include Sitamarhi, Saharsa, East Champaran, Darbhanga, Supaul, Katihar, Madhubani and Samastipur. Officials say that large areas were facing acute shortage of food items, drinking water and health facilities.

Of the 80 deaths, some were due to drowning, some of starvation and others died after falling to diseases like malaria, kala azar and diarrhea. Some were bitten by poisonous snakes.

In the last five days, several newborn babies died due to absence of health care in areas that have turned into islands. The elderly have been hit especially hard, with many tragically left behind in inundated villages by younger family members while fleeing.

Crops in 918,000 hectares worth Rs.1 billion has been lost in the floods. At least 70,903 houses were damaged.

The government has announced that farmers who have lost their crops will be paid Rs.4,000 per hectare in the form of input subsidy.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has instructed the Principal Secretary of Water Resources Development department A K Sinha to make a survey of all the embankments and take measures to save the fertile land from flood waters.

He has admitted that the embankments have not been properly protected.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister Shivraj Patil will visit the flood-affected areas on Tuesday.

Officials say the situation is likely to improve in the next couple of days as waters of all major rivers, including Bagmati, Adhvara, Kosi, Mahananda and Gandak, are receding slowly. — IANS

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