Kosi’s Fury in Bihar

Whether to call it a natural calamity, or a man-made disaster is a question that still remains unanswered. The river Kosi, which was worshipped by the people living in its basin has caused a major devastation in northern Bihar, proving itself to be the ‘Sorrow of Bihar’. More than 16 districts of Bihar have been hit by the biggest flood disaster in its history. Kosi, which enters Bihar after gathering water from the highest mountains of the world has changed its course and shifted over 120 km eastwards. In this process of changing its course, it has affected more than two million people, causing a tragic loss to their lives and property. The victims relied on the 300 km of embankments that had been built to check the waters from flooding the adjacent plains. However, to their horror, the embankments were breached fiercely by the violent waters taking its toll and rendering millions homeless.

The catastrophe has indeed challenged the responsibilities of the State and the Central Government and the efficiency of the Disaster Management Authority. On August 18, when the embankment breached, the flow of water was approximately 1.44 lakh cusecs, while the Government declared its capacity to be approximately 9.5 lakh cusecs. The breaching of the embankment at this flow, while its design claimed to withstand a much higher flow is apparently the outcome of the poor maintenance of the embankment. While the maintenance should have been surely done before June, that is the onset of monsoon in Bihar, it was neglected by the Government which perhaps didn’t consider it important to ensure the safety of two million people. When the breaching was detected on August 18, the Government could still have taken proactive steps to contain the problem by diverting the flood waters and evacuating the people, but it again overlooked the adversities of the problem. Nepal, who has shown a highly insensitive attitude by not lending a helping hand to the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu in the repairs, is equally to be blamed for causing the disaster that was preventable.

And then, the Government comes up with its promises and announcements of relief funds. According to media reports, the relief and the food being sent to the affected areas is excessively insufficient. The news coverage of the efforts made by the grief-stricken men, women and children desperate to grasp food packets dropped from the air for their survival is the epitome of the misery which they are going through. Many are still stranded in the flood, waiting frantically to be rescued. It is shocking to see how the number of helicopters and boats arranged for the rescue operations are far less in number as compared to the number of people marooned in the flooded areas, but the Ministers easily arrange numerous helicopters during election rallies and for their personal use.

I strongly believe that such disasters could be easily prevented with a proper and early planning. Time and again our country is faced with disasters such as floods and droughts, which claim thousands of lives and turn lakhs of people hapless. The Central Government continued to ignore the chaos created by the Kosi year after year, but after Bihar got flooded, in no time they passed 1000 crores to the relief fund. Had this amount been utilized in the repair and maintenance of the embankment, thousands of people could have been saved from being stranded.

Kanika Bedi

[Image Source: http://graphics.boston.com/resize/bonzai-fba/Reuters_Photo/2008/08/29/1220008769_0366/539w.jpg ]