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Indian Boat Owners Exploit Floods To Make Money

"These boatmen are making hay while the sun shines for them, so to speak, taking cash or even jewellery to bring out these desperate people," said Alkesh Kumar, a volunteer providing food and medicine. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Pratap Chakravarty
Madhubani, India (AFP) Aug 07, 2007
Yamuna Devi and her children clung to a tree, waving desperately at a passing boat to rescue them. It paddled off as she had no money to pay for a ride to safety in India's flooded Bihar state. "Pay or perish," the boatman screamed, mumbling obscenities as she numbly stared at the retreating vessel filled with people who had paid 40 rupees (one dollar) each for a ride in the state's cut-off Madhubani district.

Five months pregnant Devi, her four children and spouse were helped by good samaritan D.P. Jha, who shelled out the fee to another boatman, allowing her to leave the submerged house that had been her sanctuary for the past decade.

Nineteen of Bihar's 38 districts are stricken by the worst flooding in 30 years but Madhubani has a special problem -- very few boats, as the region never before saw flooding, said district administrator Rahul Singh.

Thousands of people are marooned in 65 villages in Madhubani, where 1,000 millimetres (40 inches) of rain coupled with a massive inflow of water from Nepal swamped the district in the past two weeks.

Saryug Sahri of Madhubani's Pali village was among those stranded.

"We cannot feed our family members and all houses of our village have been swept away and we have no money so where and how do we go?" Sahri said.

District administrator Singh promised relief to the stranded people.

"Now, whenever we come to know boat owners are overcharging we just take their vessels," said Singh, who said 103 government boats are now in Madhubani, a prosperous area known for intricate paintings.

"These kinds of things are happening more," he said.

A clamp down on profiteering by transporters and retail traders was taking effect in Madhubani, 160 kilometres (99 miles) north from state capital Patna, he added.

Police have also ordered a similar crackdown in the flood-devastated Darbhanga district, where 2.25 million people are facing food and drinking water shortages.

"These boatmen are making hay while the sun shines for them, so to speak, taking cash or even jewellery to bring out these desperate people," said Alkesh Kumar, a volunteer providing food and medicine.

"We have brought out even children from the jaws of certain death after they had been refused a ride by these roughnecks," he said at Vitholi Chowk, a highway junction now occupied by tens of thousands of homeless people.

Khusboo Paswan from the district of Samastipur had a similar experience to narrate.

"We had just enough money to pay for myself and our children and so we had to leave behind my husband," she said, anger creasing her young face.

Mohan, her husband, reunited with his family a day later, helped by a state rescue crew.

More than a dozen boat accidents have occurred in inundated Bihar, killing scores of people. The boats are often overloaded and fitted with makeshift motors to do as many trips as possible.

"Babu (sir), why blame us? We too have families," argued a boatman -- who wished to remain anonymous -- in Samastipur, where 65 flood victims drowned overnight Monday when an overcrowded boat sank in the Ganges River.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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WMO Says World Hit By Record Extreme Weather Events In 2007
Geneva (AFP) Aug 07, 2007
Many parts of the world have experienced record extreme weather conditions including unusual floods, heatwaves, storms and cold snaps since the beginning of the year, the UN's weather agency said Tuesday. Preliminary observations also indicated that global land surface temperatures in January and April reached the highest levels ever recorded for those months, the World Meteorological Organisation said in a statement. The WMO said global land temperatures were likely to have been 1.89 degrees Celsius warmer than average in January and 1.37 degrees above average in April.

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