Saturday, August 30, 2008

India's Floods: a Manmade Disaster?

Jyoti Thottam (Time)

Indian Army soldiers help transport children to safer areas in Madhepura district, in the northern Indian state of Bihar, 8/29/08. An overcrowded boat rescuing people capsized in flood-ravaged Madhepura district, 95 miles northeast of Patna, killing 20 people, with the situation worsening because of heavy rains and a greater discharge of water from neighboring Nepal, officials said Saturday (AP Photo).

AP – Villagers wade through flood waters in Madhepura District in Bihar state, India, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008.

Slideshow: Monsoon rains devastate India There was one thing different about this year's monsoon in India. As in so many seasons past, the annual rains began in June, flooding streets and villages and claiming dozens of lives. But when the Kosi River burst its banks on Aug. 18 in the northeastern state of Bihar, the destruction was much worse than anyone expected. "It is not a normal flood, but a catastrophe," Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told reporters after flying over the affected areas.

After the river breached, it headed south and soon flooded the villages in its path. More than 2.1 million people in the worst-hit parts of Bihar are not only homeless but stranded, and 55 have been killed as the floods washed out the roads and railroad lines that connected residents to the rest of the country. "We can't reach there," says Dinesh Kumar Mishra, a civil engineer and head of the non-profit group Barh Mukti Abhiyan (Freedom from Floods Campaign), who spoke to TIME from northern Bihar, where he is trying to organize relief efforts.

"They are trapped." Mishra, who has been tracking monsoon floods for more than 20 years, says this year's flooding in Bihar is worse than previous years. "It is concentrated in a capsule form in one particular area," he says. Other monsoons may have killed or displaced more people, but the destruction was spread out over a larger territory.

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