“If you have food, please give it to us, but we don’t want to board your boats”. It is said that every major tragedy gets the best out of people and the worst. The statement couldn’t have been more apt for the situation in Bihar where the scarcity of food has triggered an ugly race for survival as people went on to loot a relief camp in Madhepura.
In the worst tragedy to have hit the state of Bihar, the Kosi river floods have displaced more than 30 lakh people and destroyed close to 3 lakh houses. Since the Kosi river changed course flooding several districts of Bihar, more than 50 people have been killed and several lakhs left injured and rendered homeless. The tremor it caused is so large that after inspection, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to declare the Bihar floods a national disaster. The people had not even been remotely aware that they were going to relive their worst nightmare. That night, many lives were swept away with the Kosi water. Since the past twenty years, the Kosi River has been increasing pressure on the dam. Though its repairing was continuously being done, the damage seemed almost inevitable. On August 5, the cracks had started appearing. The degree of mismanagement was such that the caretakers of dam were absent from their duty on that fateful day which took many lives. The information could not reach the villagers on time and everything was swallowed by water.
The situation became more frightening with the passing days. The deep and dirty water was swamping all areas. The dead animals were floating and the snakes had come out of their habitat wading up and down. The survivors were waiting for help to arrive sitting on the roofs of submerged huts (the base of which could collapse any time). This disaster seems to be bearing more resemblance to a tsunami than a flood. In some cases, the people have been forced to leave their loved ones behind. Despite being restless with hunger, villagers have been willing to share their leftovers with the animals. “These are village dogs, we cannot let die”, a villager has been quoted as saying. It is moving to see such affection for animals at a time of crisis when everyone is starving.
Apparently, politicians have been showing great concern. A Union Cabinet Minister underlined all the arrangements he made for relief for his flood stricken state .All the ministers from BJP and Congress have asked all MPs to donate a handsome amount of money for flood relief. 14 lakh Railway employees have been asked to donate a day’s salary. The areas where political leaders have never stepped in have been surveyed. L.K Advani also visited the flood-stricken areas (perhaps to ask for votes indirectly). But who can say if politics or genuine concern is on their minds. Everyone loves a crisis which helps soar their positions in the political drama.
With the lowering of water level, there comes the risk of infections and water borne diseases. But lakhs of people are still trapped in flood water. Relief is being gathered and everyone is contributing to it but no one knows where it is going, as it is clear that the help being provided is insufficient. In the district of Madhepura, more than hundred people looted the relief camp at a development office where the food packets were stored. In another place people ran for miles after helicopters which were dropping food packets and in an unfortunate incident in the district of Supaul, one boy was killed and several others were injured when food packets fell on them. Inmates of the jail in Supaul took advantage of the flood waters and the absence of security to break out. The availability of food has also become scarce in the entire state of Bihar and will continue to be so after almost 2 lakh hectares of crops and vegetables were destroyed by the floods. UNICEF has brought in people for providing relief matter to the people but the transport system in the state is so abysmal that they cannot reach the worst hit areas. Adding to the agony of those lucky enough to have survived is the fear of being robbed. They have become easy targets, considering their vulnerability.
A twilight is enough to guide us in a dark night. Though these people are in trouble, their spirits have not flagged yet. They are trying to combat this grave situation together by offering all kind of help to humans as well as animals. These villagers sure are setting an example of togetherness. These floods have claimed more than 700 lives, others are still trapped.
Situation is expected to improve gradually. Let us hope our government actually wakes up to the plight of these victims of a river’s fury. This is a disaster which will require long term assistance.
Vatsala Singh and Shishir Shrivastava
[Image Source;] http://bihartimes.com/newsbihar/2008/Aug/30aug3.jpg