Flood situation report in Supaul district compiled by Megh Pyne Abhiyan

Flood situation report in Supaul district compiled by Megh Pyne Abhiyan

About the Report: The flood situation report has been a joint effort of Megh Pyne Abhiyan's (literally clouds' water campaign, involving people around the issue of water and livelihood, and a functional network of grassroots organizations) partners - Gramyasheel, Supaul; Kosi Seva Sadan, Saharsa; Samta, Khagaria, Ghoghardiha Prakhand Swarajya Vikas Sangh, Madhubani; SAVERA, West Champaran; Luisa Cortesi and Eklavya Prasad in assistance with Santosh Jha of Gram Bharti, Raghopur.Supaul. For compiling the situation report, two days of field visit was undertaken by the team, involving extensive interaction with affected villagers from India and Nepal, discussion with members of civil society groups, deliberations with government officials (Sub Divisional Magistrate and Dy Superintendent of Police, Tribeniganj; District Magistrate, Supal) and internal exchange of idea between the partners of Megh Pyne Abhiyan (MPA) and the supporting organizations. During the field visit, the group started to explore the option of establishing a district level coordination group comprising of eminent personalities and professionals, representatives of non governmental organizations and media, to coordinate and steer the rescue and relief work with individuals, government agencies, non government organizations, donor agencies, corporate bodies etc. Hence, on 25th August during a district level meeting of local organizations, activists and donor agency, a consensus was reached to set up a coordination group, named as the Flood Action Coordination Group (FACG), Supaul.

General overview of the River: On the 18th of August the eastern embankment of Kosi near Kusaha in Nepal's Sunsari district breached. The breach itself has caused colossal loss of life and property in the south east tarai region of Nepal and in six districts of north Bihar, affecting more than 2.5 million human lives. After the breach, the river has shifted its course nearly 100 kilometres (kms) eastward from its earlier course (which use to pass through the districts of Supaul, Saharsa, Madhubani, Darbhanga and Khagaria).

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Kosi, with its seven tributaries known as Saptkosi, drains the eastern part of Nepal and parts of Tibet. Some of the headstreams emerge beyond the Nepalese border in Tibet. Approximately 50 kms north of Indo-Nepal border, the Kosi is joined by its seven tributaries and breaks southwards through the Shivalik Hills at the narrow Barahkshetra gorge. The river then flows on the plains of northern Bihar on its way to Ganga meandering through a course of approximately 700 kms. Originating from the glaciers of Tibet and Nepal, the river is exceptionally turbulent because of the steep gradient flow in Nepal. It has the history of changing its course every 50 to 100 years. The main cause of Kosi changing its course is exactly the steepness and the consequent heavy silt it carries along with its swirling water. The river carries approximately 700 lakh tones of silt every year, which is almost five times the sediment load of any other river in Bihar.

About the breached embankment: It is openly recognized that the embankment got damaged because timely maintenance has not be carried out. It is relevant to notice that the safety, maintenance and upkeep of the embankment are a responsibility of the department of water resources, government of Bihar, through an understanding between the two countries. Therefore, the Bihar government should have carried out the maintenance work as per the related bilateral agreement. What is intriguing is that the Indian side has claimed that they could not carry out the maintenance works due to lack of cooperation from the local Nepalese administration. No matter what prevented the Indian team from maintaining the embankment, the consequences have already been grave. Given this precedence, it is relevant to notice that the same accident could be replicated if timely maintenance of the embankments is not carried out seriously. According to a report quoting a water resources department official, the following justification is given: "This year's breach near Kusaha in Nepal has been caused due to heavy silting of the course before the Bhimnagar barrage. The engineers of Nepal and Bihar as per the agreement used to de-silt the course before the onset of monsoon. But this year, the engineer could not complete the job because the labourers were not available due to frequent bandhs (strikes) called by labourers in Nepal almost about a month. As per the agreement between the two countries, anti-flood works have to be carried out by contractors and labourers of Nepal." The ferocity of the river is raising lot of doubts about the recent claims and announcements about its plugging by the Indian technocrats and politicians. As a consequence, the breach has once again destroyed the already dwindling faith that the people have had on the governance pattern and the accountability of the state. This factor results in manifestation of anger and frustration amongst the affected population both in India and in Nepal towards the concerned department and the so called state machinery. According to Ramchandra Yadav of Kusaha village, Sunshari, Nepal, "The people who were given the responsibility of safeguarding the embankment have been grossly irresponsible. If we would have been dependent on their warning signals, then surely I would not have been here to narrate what happened on the 18th August. Officials who have let die so many people can still be free, this is just not acceptable."The reaction of Yadav is one amongst many similar ones, quoted here as indicative of the present mood of the affected people in Nepal. Based on our and local people's estimation, the breach appears to be approximately of 2-3 kms and is continuing to get eroded due to huge quantum of water (approximately 1.5-1.9 lakh cusec) coupled with strong currents. Due to the breach, the flow of the Kosi barrage has got reduced to a minimal quantity of 23,181 cusec on 23rd August, reducing the expanse of the river and making it appear as it normally is during summers. On 24th August, according to government sources, a total of 2.10 lakh cusec of river flow was recorded. Out of this, only 20,000 cusec drained out of the barrage.

Impact of floods in Nepal: The breach in eastern embankment at Kusaha is approximately 12 kms upstream from the Kosi barrage at Bhimnagar. It is the first time that a breach upstream has occurred and, as a result, the River Kosi has started to flow in its ancient bed, as it used to do in the 1800. In Nepal approximately 50,000 people have been affected because of the floods as Sapta Kosi damaged the dam and submerged four village development committees (VDC) in Sunsari district - Kusaha, Haripur, Shripur and Laukihi. The floods have further damaged standing crops worth billions of rupees in the above mentioned VDCs. Besides, the flood water has also swept away a section of the East-West Highway at Bhantabari area, bringing the movement of vehicles on the lifeline of the country to a complete halt. Nepal Army helicopters have rescued hundreds of people trapped in the flood waters whereas the Nepal Army personnel managed to rescue an imprecise number of people from the flooded settlements. The army and police personnel were finding it difficult to carry the rescue works effectively as there is no dry spot to land the helicopters. However, ropeways were set up, and boats and elephants were hired to carry out the rescue works. Rescued people have been housed in schools, colleges and temples of Saptari and Inaruwa and in temporary shelters food has been provided by several individuals, voluntary groups and non-governmental organisations.

Impact of floods in Bihar: According to Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, "This is not floods but an infuriated portrayal of a calamity". Pratya Amrit, Additional Secretary cum Commissioner, Department of Disaster Management, Bihar has admitted that the flood in Supaul and adjoining districts of Bihar is totally of a different character than the one experienced in the previous year. The river Kosi is not overflowing. It is changing its course. Due to the breach in the embankment in Kusaha, four districts of north Bihar - Supaul, Araria, Madhepura and Purneia - are being currently ravaged. According to recent reports, adjoining districts of Saharsa, Khagaria and Katihar are also under threat because of their position in the hydrographic basin. In Saharsa district, five blocks , Saur Bazaar, Patar Ghat, Sonbarsa, Simri Bhaktiyarpur and Banma Ithari , along with Beldaur block of Khagaria district are in the most precarious situation. In Araria district Narpatganj, Fobesganj, Raniganj, Bhargama and Palasi blocks have been affected. Similarly in Madhepura district, Muraliganj, Kumarkhand, Udakishunganj, Sinheshwar Esthan, Gwal Pada, Shankerpur, Bihariganj, Alamnagar Chousa, and Madhepura are reeling under floods. And in Purneia district Banmankhi, Dhamdaha, Barharakothi, Rupauli, and Bhawanipur blocks are affected by Kosi rage, which is disrupting lives of approximately 0.4-0.45 million humans. According to a rough estimate approximately 2.5 - 3 million people are currently affected by the present flood.

Latest update: Districts inundated , Supaul, Saharasa, Araria, Madhepura, Purnia, Katihar and Khagaria Population affected , Press reports 2.5 million marooned in 441 affected villages, but MPA estimates 4 million people affected Land under water , 65,000 hectares Rail link affected , Saharsa , Banmankhi and Saharsa , Madhepura; Train movement during night in Saharsa and Madhepura districts stopped as precautionary measure Road link affected , Purnia , Saharsa as NH 107 submerged; Buses on the Saharsa ,Banmankhi and Madhepura ,Singheshwar route suspended as flood water overtops roads; Bargama , Araria and forbesganj , Bargama road link snapped Source , The Hindustan Times, 27 August 2008 and modified by MPA

Victims' violent response to politicians Flood victims at Singheshwar (Madhepura district) heckled Janta Dal (United) legislator Rameshwar Prasad Yadav on 24th August On 21st August in the border of Araria and Supaul districts, Janardan Yadav, BJP MLA of Narpatganj, Lakshmi Mehta, Forbesganj BJP MLA, Sukhdeo Paswan, Araria BJP MLA were assaulted In Supaul the former DM and Member of Parliament were thrashed by the affected people and their relatives Source , The Hindustan Times, 27 August 2008 and modified by MPA

Impact of floods in Supaul: It has been reported that approximately 1 million people are presently fighting for their survival only in Supaul district, as Basantpur, Pratapganj, Chaatapur and parts of Tribeniganj and Raghopur blocks are totally inundated with huge number of people trapped between the surging water.

Profile of the affected areas in Supaul district: Block Panchayat Village Population Chaatapur 23 63 263,117 Vasantpur 10 63 178,880 Raghopur 6 19 86,913 Pratapganj 9 14 72,210 Tribeniganj 21 51 292,670 (Inputs received on 24th August, 2008) To make matter worse, all infrastructure facilities have been destroyed. For small and marginal farmers, their present and future is under dark. Standing crops like paddy, madua, patua or parsan have been completely destroyed. Huge population of livestock has also been affected. Not only the immediate future is scary. Locals are aware that the water inundating their land is not going to recede. If, due to the breach of the embankment, the river Kosi changed its course, those lands are lost. Affected area (in lakh hectare) Type Area Agriculture land 0.741 Other purposes 0.399 Total 1.14 Affected cropped area 0.741 Based on MPA's visit to some of the flood affected areas in Supaul district followed by several interactions with the affected population, the present scenario comes across as extremely grim. There are high chances of the situation deteriorating at a fast pace. Most of the areas in the affected blocks are totally cut off from the mainland. People have been stranded since the time the river started flowing in that direction. Due to lack of facilities like big motorized boats, helicopters, etc. evacuation has not been carried out in the Indian area. People are taking refuge either on rooftops or on trees since the floods occurred and these temporary arrangements have also proven to be fatal. There are reports of houses collapsing under the pressure of human population that has resulted in deaths by huge numbers. Small boats have also capsized killing few hundreds. These deaths have not been acknowledged by the district administration, as the government figures on human loss provided in the daily report prepared by the Disaster Management Department on 24th August 2008 clearly states that there has not been a single human or livestock death in the district, which obviously is far from representing the reality. Moreover, the situation has become vulnerable due to incidence of looting. People have been complaining that while sailing in the flooded areas (for instance between Bhimnagar to Bhirpur or the reverse), they have been looted by local criminals. Unfortunately, the private boatmen are eager to consider floods as an opportunity to earn an extra sum through extortion. It has been reported by several sources that private boatmen are sailing people to secluded areas and threatening them with dire consequences unless the flood victims agree to pay huge extra transportation cost. Commuters have mentioned that they have been threatened to pay anything between Rs 3,000 , 4,000 for hiring a boat with a capacity of 10 people for short distances. The same is applicable for individuals as well who had to part with Rs 500 , 600 per trip. According to the flood victims, "This situation has developed mainly due to presence of few government boats. With each passing day, the desperation amongst people to save their lives is bound to increase. Hence, these private boatmen will get more opportunities to extort as per their wishes. The only way to stop them is by floating more government boats and in the meanwhile the administration should ensure safety to local commuters by placing armed forces on each boat as the fear amongst these boatmen of doing something wrong has long vanished." Lack of preparedness, emergency supporting facilities (for instance motorized boats, life jackets, local swimmers who have the experience of wading through rivers in spate), and accessible conditions, made it difficult for the local administration to respond to the emergency situation in its first week. While this report is being closed, it has been almost 9 days since the disaster struck. Since then, the relief activity that took place (mainly few small and medium boats and dropping of food packets) covered small areas and left majority of the population unattended. The present situation is such that the marooned population has no option than to depend on external rescue operations for survival. In its absence no other intervention would be meaningful. The notion of being located in a flood secure zone has been highly detrimental for the local population. Floods was not considered as a possibility, hence no effort of preparedness at any level was ever done both by people and by the local administration. Just before closing the report, the team got to know that the bandh (check dam) near the Hydropower station located at Kataiya in Vasantpur block is being ravaged by the flood waters and is under threat. Its collapse could mean further disaster for the region. It is feared that if the check dam breaches then Supaul district headquarters along with its other blocks- Raghopur, Pipra, Saraigarh, and Kishanpur will be totally submerged. And few more blocks of the adjoining district - Saharsa, (Nawhatta, Satarkataiya, Mahishi, and Kahara) will be affected.

Need of the hour: MPA strongly believes that the main challenge at present is to rescue all the trapped victims from the flooded areas and to provide food and other immediate facilities to the rescued people. Going by the present scenario, it is evident that the following interventions are required on a war footing in terms of priority - Big motorized boats for rescue and for relief operations - Helicopters for airlifting the stranded population in places where the current of the river does not allow boats to sail. - Assistance in terms of o Shelter o Food o Rainwater harvesting system for safe drinking water o Sanitation facilities o Emergency drugs and essential items for women and infants o Rectifying communication facilities o Disposal of bodies of dead people and dead animals MPA strongly advocates for interventions that involve both the government and the civil society following reciprocal competencies and responsibilities. For what Supaul district is concerned, several groups and organizations have merged into a Flood Action Coordination Group, and it is expected that the group will coordinate the intervention at the district level as representative of the civil society.

Peoples' voices: MPA and the facilitating organizations could not exempt from giving space to people voices in this report. Many of those are voices are not mere testimonies but shocking revelations and appeal for help.

Basudev Rai, Chainpur, Thuthi, Chaatapur, Supaul "I have been waiting at Bhimnagar barrage for past 3 days just to manage a boat so that I can go to my village. Till now I have not been successful. As a desperate measure I am now going to Pratapganj to explore the possibilities of hiring a boat. I have been told that hiring a boat is an expensive proposition. Looking at my desperate condition, my relatives from Banarjhula village of Saptari VDC in Nepal have given me Rs 1200 for hiring a boat. I hope I will be able to get one. Kindly do me a favour, please call my son Ranjit Rai and tell him that his father is on his way. His number is +919973724157."

Muralidhar Singh, Kosi Balvikas Samuh, Kosi Barrage, Haripur Ward no 9, Sunseri, Nepal "No effective relief work has been carried out by Indian government, whatever has happened it has been because of the initiative of the Nepal government."

Manoj Kumar, Laxminia, Tribeniganj, Supaul "The estimated affected population in Laxminia is approximately 4,000 people. Everything is inundated. Rich people have access to dry food but for the poor begging is the only way out. Not a single relief operation has taken place here. Scarcity of boats often results in fierce clashes between people as all of them want to run away from here."Contact number - +919431229775

Santosh Jha, Narayanpur Murali, Tribeniganj, Supaul "Never seen so many dead bodies the way I have witnessed in past 7 days. Would you believe if I say that till now I must have come across 250 bodies of all ages? It is just a nightmare. I am getting calls from my sister and she is repeatedly asking for help. I am absolutely helpless. I just do not know whether she is dead or alive and whether will I be able to locate her body. Right now there is no one whom we can approach for help. Simply no one. I wonder if there will be anyone in the future as well. This is a great learning for all of us. The state tends to take its people for granted. This simply shows that there is no value for life."

Uma Shanker Singh, Bhimnagar, Vasantpur, Supaul, "Seriously speaking, the entire flood victim population should be on a lookout for the engineers and the contractors responsible for this intolerant mess. How can they not be pulled up? Personal relationships and benefits were given priority over the safety and maintenance of the embankment. This issue needs to be taken up aggressively at all levels."

Muhammad Jalil, Gosepur, Parmanandpur, Supaul, "My extended family is from Patarwa village in Vasantpur block. Today I have no contact with them. I have been informed through sources that all of them are dead. I know it is true but just cannot accept it. My family could not be saved but if you all are really keen to save lives then please go to Mohanpur, Chirmiria, Chamma, Amrit Chowk, Balua, Sitapur, Buxa chowk, Chandini chowk. Survival rates in these villages is extremely low."

Manju Devi, Bhimnagar, Vasantpur, Supaul, "It took me 30 minutes to make up my mind to cross the canal. It is disgusting to cross the river by crawling on two bamboos. I had to do it because my mother is sick, she needs medicines and food. Life has changed completely for us."

Muhammad Quayyum, Badshah chowk, Vasantpur, Supaul, "Five children died recently in a hamlet east of Bhadshah chowk. Hundreds of people are marooned and have survived with nothing for last seven days. I am not sure how long will they be able to resist death."

Muhammad Yunis, Babuan, Narpatganj, Arraia, "I have been waiting for past few days at Bhimnagar trying to hire a boat to reach my village. All my efforts have gone in vain and now I have ran short of options."

Rajendra Prasad Yadav, Puraine, Vasantpur, Supaul, "My children and wife are stuck in floods. There is no one at home to take care of them. They are braving floods without any help. I am desperate to get home, but there is no help at all."

Ashok Kumar, Bhimnagar, Vasantpur, Supaul, "In Birpur one can clearly see lot of dead bodies stuck in a pond and there cremation has become a huge problem."

Conclusion: This report clearly states and justifies the urgent need for rescuing the marooned people in the affected areas. Moreover, MPA considers it important to add the following three deliberations. First of all, it is strongly hoped that external agents will understand the different character of floods in Bihar and particularly of the flood this report has been focusing on. In the past, flood in Bihar has been considered a disaster as many others, and the measures taken have been inappropriate in terms of the context and irresponsible in terms of the social situation. A consistent and humble effort of understanding of the area along with respect for local expertise should be the basis of any intervention. Secondly, the long-term challenge is to properly resettle the displaced people and ensure their safety from similar floods. In order to ensure this, responsibility for the breach in the embankment needs to be taken by the Bihar government, and accurate information about the reasons of the breach needs to be made public. Accordingly, entitlements and compensations must be recognized and fairly allotted. Thirdly, the efficacy and dangers of the present flood control measures should be debated at various levels. The rhetoric of flood preparedness needs to be filled with concrete and contextual measures. Should Bihar continue to raise embankments, claim to prepare people to floods and then confront its toll? At the end, we are left with millions of people in flood waters. Download the Report as a doc file: Flood Situation Report


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