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Flood abates, battle for food begins

Thousands of displaced people in Bihar are leading a life worse than that of a prisoner in a small cellar, report Ruchir Kumar & Binod Dubey.
By Ruchir Kumar/Binod Dubey | Hindustan Times, Patna
UPDATED ON AUG 08, 2007 04:30 AM IST

Snatching food from one's mouth; a virtual stampede for elusive food packets, leading to fractured limbs; a teenager, challenged by hunger, drowning in an attempt to catch a packet of beaten rice and jaggery dropped from an IAF helicopter; displaced humans sharing space with bovines on embankments – such heart-rending scenes are all too common in the flood-hit districts of Bihar.

At Jhanjharpur, life was never so cruel. Thousands of displaced people here are leading a life worse than that of a prisoner in a small cellar, with no space to even stretch out their legs.

There is not a single day when thousands on the embankment do not squabble over food, as supplies fast dry up. And not just food, the people also wrangle over polythene sheets, torn plastic sheets taken from packaging material or just about anything that can protect them from the alternating onslaughts of searing sunshine and cold rain.

At Begusarai, corpses come floating in the water. Living on an embankment, Sribhagwan Manjhi says he has so far spotted 10 such dead bodies.

Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Saharsa, East and West Champaran, Supaul, Darbhanga, Bhagalpur, Madhubani and Samastipur have also been badly affected.

Epidemic threat looms
Meanwhile, medical experts are apprehensive of the epidemics that are likely to follow the deluge.

The spread of diseases from contaminated water would be a major health threat for the people living in the affected districts, warned a leading physician Dr Ajay Kumar. "Restoring fresh drinking water and repairing sewer systems is the most urgent health issue. Any delay would be catastrophic," he added.

Hepatitis A and enterovirus (a virus that infects the gastrointestinal tract, with the ability to spread to other parts of the body) are the diseases that are most likely to strike immediately after the floodwater recedes. Mosquito related ailments like meningococcal meningitis, malaria and kala-azar might be the other offshoots of the receding water, he added.

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