As floods recede, India looks at rebuilding lives | india | Hindustan Times
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As floods recede, India looks at rebuilding lives

Monsoon flood waters are slowly trickling away and aid slowly trickling into devastated areas of north and eastern India, while authorities begin talking about rebuilding homes and reopening schools.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2007 15:34 IST
Kamil Zaheer

Monsoon flood waters were slowly trickling away and aid slowly trickling into devastated areas of north and eastern India on Thursday, while authorities began talking about rebuilding homes and reopening schools.

Authorities also promised to learn lessons from the catastrophic flooding which killed more than 583 people in India and Bangladesh in the last three weeks and left hundreds of thousands homeless, exposed and vulnerable to deadly diseases.

However, similar pledges are made most years following the deadly floods which plague the region -- many people in Bihar, one of the worst-hit states this year, will remember suffering similar devastation in the floods of 2002, 2003 and 2004.

This time around, the floods completely destroyed more than 31,000 homes in Bihar and damaged tens of thousands more -- mostly the flimsy bamboo and mud homes of poor farming families.

Another 10,000 homes were smashed in neighbouring Assam state and ruined vast swathes of farmland. The state's relief minister said on Thursday he needed help from international aid agencies.

Satish Chandra Jha, undersecretary in Bihar's Disaster Management Department, said his department would help fund the rebuilding of homes, and wanted to build them out of brick on higher ground.

Meanwhile thousands of hungry families were still camping out on embankments and roads in makeshift tarpaulin shelters waiting for someone to bring them food and clean water.

"We had nothing to lose but our homes, and we lost those," said 35-year-old Kishan Paswan, a swarthy farm labourer from Gaighat hamlet, as he looked grimly at his young daughter holding an emaciated white goat.

In Bangladesh, two-thirds of which disappeared beneath the floods, an outbreak of diarrhoea has infected 50,000 people and killed 12 people, officials said.

Sitting on a highway on the outskirts of Dhaka, the country's capital, Mohammed Amin said his family had not eaten for days.
"My children wait for me to bring them something to eat, but I am so helpless," he said. "I just turn away my eyes from them in pain and agony."

BACK TO SCHOOL?

Up to five million children in Bihar are not able to go to school, UNICEF estimated, as many schools have been flooded out or are being used as shelters.

"In major disasters, many children see the death of people and cattle and all-round misery," said Job Zachariah, acting head of UNICEF in Bihar. "Resuming education itself is the best psychological counselling for kids, even if it's under a tree."

Authorities have also said they are working out what lessons to learn from this year's flooding, with experts saying global warming is likely to cause even heavier monsoons with more deadly storms in the region.

At the dingy health centre in Gaighat, surrounded by ankle-deep water, Dr Sudhir Kumar suggested buying more boats.

"We could not get medical care to many marooned people as we had a limited number of boats," he said over the wails of sick children. "But even if we had more boats, we would need life jackets as many health workers can't swim."

Officials in Patna said they sent out 3,800 boats to help the stranded, but admit they could have done with more.

They also said they wanted to strengthen river embankments, though some experts say they only make flooding worse when they break and stop water from draining away again.

Floods have also killed people on the other side of the country in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Gujarat weather officials expected more heavy rain over the next day or two.

(Additional reporting by Biswajyoti Das in Guwahati, Krittivas Mukherjee in Mumbai and Serajul Islam Quadir in Aminbazar)