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. Flood-hit Indian state appeals for more help

About 600,000 people have been plucked from the flood plains. Many more have waded out themselves, but 350,000 more still need to be saved from roofs or isolated high ground and brought to safety, they say. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Saharsa, India (AFP) Sept 3, 2008
Flood-hit northern India is in dire need of international aid on the scale of that seen after the 2004 Asian tsunami, a state official said Wednesday.

A large swathe of the already desperately poor state of Bihar is likely to remain under water for several months, leaving authorities coping with millions of people who have lost everything, officials and aid workers said.

"We will definitely need the support of international organisations and agencies, the same as after the tsunami (in 2004) or the Gujarat earthquake" in 2001, said Bihar disasters minister Nitish Mishra.

"It is not possible for just the government to have a complete rehabilitation policy on its own. Whatever more is available, we need it."

The flooding started on August 18, when a river burst through defences upstream in Nepal and changed course to cut across a large rural area in Bihar state.

The UN has said at least a million people are homeless, although the aid group Save the Children said the figure could be five times higher.

"This is six times the number of people that were made homeless by the cyclone in Myanmar four months ago and 7.5 times the number of people in India that were made homeless after the tsunami in 2004," the agency said.

"The reported death toll is not high, but the number of people affected by this flooding is on an unimaginable scale."

Officials said work to fix the flood walls and divert the Kosi river back to its normal course cannot begin before the rainy season ends in October, and is unlikely to be completed before early next year.

About 600,000 people have been plucked from the flood plains. Many more have waded out themselves, but 350,000 more still need to be saved from roofs or isolated high ground and brought to safety, they say.

The military said it was stepping up the rescue efforts.

"Since the water is receding slowly in some parts of Bihar, the armed forces are confident of rescuing the marooned population in a couple of days," said air commodore G. S. Cheema, in charge of the mass evacuation.

However aid workers said that in some areas the currents were still too strong, and that much of the food being dropped by air had landed in water.

"All the wells and water sources are gone. We foresee a scarcity of water, milk, food. Crops have been destroyed. Land will not be fit for cultivation for six to seven months after the waters recede," said S.P. Singh, Red Cross chief in Bihar.

Aditi Kapur of the British aid group Oxfam said authorities were still struggling to come to terms with the disaster.

"The magnitude is greater than what the state has been able to handle. No one was prepared. More needs to be done," she told AFP.

Bihar's agriculture ministry estimated crop damage at 1.5 billion rupees (36 million dollars), and warned it could mount if flood waters do not subside.

Evacuated villagers, some with buffaloes and cows they managed to rescue, have crowded into every safe building on the edge of the vast flood plain. Schools, universities, temples and madrassas have all turned into shelters.

In the worst-hit areas near the town of Saharsa, 150 kilometres (95 miles) east of the state capital Patna, only tree-tops were visible above the water.

Some families were camped on road embankments.

Hira Sada, a 60-year-old farmer, said his village was neck-deep in water -- leaving him and his extended family stuck on a road along with some livestock they managed to save.

"We can't go back for at least three months. But what can we do? There is no work," he said.

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Mass exodus from Indian 'river of sorrow'
Madhepura, India (AFP) Sept 2, 2008
Distraught and destitute, countless numbers of poor Indian villagers are slowly wading out of their flood-hit region in a desperate search for food and drinking water.

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