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Floods: Helpless Bihar seeks PM's help
Anand Mohan Sahay in Patna
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August 06, 2007 14:07 IST
Last Updated: August 06, 2007 15:38 IST

With Bihar facing the worst floods in living memory as described by the United Nations, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] to provide more assistance from the Calamity Relief Fund and more food grains through the FCI.

Nitish also requested Dr Singh to tour flood affected areas of Bihar to personally assess the damages of property and miseries to millions.

Nitish's demand comes after a week when the government appeared to be clueless to tackle the situation. At a time when officials engaged in relief operations admitted that large areas were faced with acute shortage of food items, drinking water and health facilities, the demand for assistance is seen to be too late and too little.

Images: 2 million affected by Bihar floods

According to official sources, the state is not in a position to distribute food aid for more than a few days due to inadequate storage in FCI warehouses.

Indian Air Force helicopters on Monday began airdropping of food packets in new areas of flood affected districts. The state government also pressed army boats to evacuate marooned people from several areas.

"We have airdropped 4,640 relief packets on Sunday and 2,440 relief packets on Saturday and target to airdrop more on Monday in fresh areas," Manoj Srivastava , director of the state disaster management department, told on Monday.

According to him, each 5 kg relief packet contains 4.5 kg ground gram, half kg of salt, candles and match box. But there is no move to provide safe drinking water to the marooned people.

Bihar reels under floods

After facing flak from several quarters for the alleged inaction, the government has decided to airdrop relief packets with vigour from Sunday.

The much-needed polythene sheets are likely to be distributed soon after they arrive from Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Wet Bengal and other states. There is acute shortage of polythene sheets for making temporary shelter houses on embankments, bridges.

Besides, some public sector companies like NTPC, Power Grid Corporation of India and NHPC have come out in support. The UNDP officials said that 65,784 pieces of polythene sheets procured by the PSUs would be available by August 10.

The foreign donors including UNICEF, OXfam, Red Cross have also joined hands for relief operations.

"There was little help for flood victims and hardly efforts were made to airdrop relief materials to those fighting for survival," a senior official admitted on condition of anonymity. What wondered some people here that no move was made to take the help of Army and Air Force earlier that raised many eyebrows and worked as salt to the injuries of flood victims.

The state disaster management department claims that distribution of relief materials were going in full speed and denied the charges of inadequate relief among marooned people.

Officials admitted that large areas were faced with acute shortage of food items, drinking water and health facilities. At several places scarcity of food triggered mini riots for the airdropped packets in Darbhanga, Madhubani, East Champaran ,Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi districts.

Police officials said that reports of fighting over food packets were received in last two days. The flood victims were ready to risk their life for a food packet.

Despite continuing reports of breaches of embankments that inundated fresh areas day adter day, the government officials in Patna downplayed the gravity of the situation and claimed that it was not serious.

But the floods have created havoc, thousands of people were displaced, living on the embankments under open sky without food and water. It was only after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's first aerial survey last Friday that officials became were jolted into action.

According to the preliminary estimate made by the disaster management department about 12 million people spread over 5000 villages in 18 of 38 districts affected by floods. The floods claimed 90 lives so far with ten more people died in last 24 hours.

Thousands are living dangerously on embankments and highways and more are stranded on rooftops and other high ground they find.

The crop in 9.18 lakh hectare worth Rs 100 crore have been lost in the flood. At least 70,903 houses were damaged. Half of them either washed away or collapsed.

In some places, the officials visiting the areas were taken hostages for hours by angry flood victims to protest inadequate relief.

Officials admitted that thousands struggling for survival due to inadequate relief by the state government. Children crying for milk are being given bhunja (roasted food grains). They have no option but to drink polluted floodwater.

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

Nitish has also 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 the flood. He conceded that the embankments have not been properly protected.

The only good news is that all the six major rivers that have wrecked havoc have been consistently showing signs of receding.

The Water Resource Minister Ramashray Prasad Singh said there had been no significant rainfall in the last three days.

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