Kosi Flood

© 2008 NEED Communications, Inc.
photo | Sumit Dayal

Writer: Line Wolf Nielsen

Locals in North India call it the “Sorrow of Bihar” - an appropriate name for the river Kosi which burst its embankment in eastern Nepal on the 18th of August. An area the size of Singapore has been inundated, making some 3 million people homeless and causing huge damages to roads, railways and farmland.

Gauri Devi's bamboo hut is barely standing. A row of wooden poles hold up the thatch roof, a wall looks ready to slide into the waist deep waters. Gauri Devi is among 2.5 million people in India’s Bihar state and 100,000 in Nepal made homeless by the Kosi changing its course. She has now returned to her village in Bihar's Madhepura district with her five young children.

The water started rising on the night of August 18th, when everyone was asleep. Within an hour it was more than a meter high. "The children were scared and all our grain got wet. I was afraid too," Devi says.

No one died in her village, but it took a long time for them to be rescued by the Indian military. They were taken to high ground in Galmar where camp was set up in a school building.

"We slept with more than 100 people per room, but it was safe, and all families got rice and lentils twice a day," recalls Devi. The men went back once a week to check on houses and belongings, but after six weeks the camp was closed.

Most of the 500 people living in Devi's village are now back. The Kosi flows through the surrounding farmland, and the villagers wade knee-deep in brown water to get from one house to another.

© 2008 NEED Communications, Inc.
photo | Sumit Dayal

Boys laugh and dive off the backs of water buffalos, but the adults are worried about the future. "How can we stay here if we have no land to farm?" Devi asks.

Bihar is amongst the poorest states in India. Eight out of ten are dependent on agriculture and cattle farming. The fact that more than 100,000 hectare (247,000 acres) of farmland is under water has huge economic consequences, and heavy siltation will decrease the fertility of the land for a very long time to come.

Workers with Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), a local NGO, must walk as much as 40 minutes through flooded roads to distribute supplies to villages. Salt and other essentials need a day's roundtrip to nearby dry land markets. The village lacks medicine and food the most. Safe drinking water is also a problem because the tube wells are flooded. How quickly life will get back to normal here will depend on how engineers can channel the Kosi back to its previous course upstream in Nepal.

At least 80 percent of the Kosi River continues to flow down its new path - making reconstruction work on damaged infrastructure a big challenge. Getting supplies to the cut off areas still requires a lot of different transportation means and time.

To view more of Sumit Dayal’s photographs of the flooding in Bihar visit www.sumitdayal.com/biharfloods

Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA)
Dr. Sushant Agrawal - Director
Rachna Building,4th floor,
2 Rajendra Place, Pusa Road,
New Delhi - 110008,
ph: 25730611/ 2, 25731218/ 9, 25761579, 25767231
fax: 91-11-25752502
aloke@casa-india.org, sanjeev@casa-india.org

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