Floods and the damage in their wake are nothing new for Bihar. What is remarkable is how little thought and effort have been put in trying to find the right solutions to this recurring problem.
The breach in the Kosi river in Nepal and its results are there for all to see. The national disaster management unit of the ministry of home affairs estimates that some 2.5 million people in 15 districts of the state have been affected. Other reports indicate that 1.1 million people have been marooned due to the disastrous eastward change of course in the Kosi river.
What’s unfortunate for the people of Bihar is the deadly combination of geographic features that make floods a regular feature and the utter lack of capability of the state government. The latter is a man-made feature, a result of the state’s political landscape.
Rivers flowing in the state originate in the Himalayas. Bihar is a flat area. As a result, any change in the level of river water flow, or inundation in the upper reaches of the rivers, affects it adversely.
Over the decades, successive state governments have made good use of this natural feature. They have created a perfect “non-solution” to the problem: embankments along riverbanks. It serves everyone. Contractors get flood prevention money, politicians their cut, and in happy years there’s no flooding. These embankments are at best a temporary solution. But in the long run they allow silt to rise to alarming levels. In any case, once constructed, they remove any attention from the basic problem of silt accumulation. Then comes a year when everything fails. This is one such year.
A lasting solution will require a cleaning of the state’s political stables. That will take time, if ever. In the meantime, effective flood relief measures are called for. This is not an easy matter as well. (Remember Gautam Goswami, the feted Bihar civil servant who embezzled crores of rupees meant for flood relief?)
But at the moment, the priority ought to be to get aid to those without food or shelter. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced a package of Rs1,000 crore and 125,000 tonnes of food for the state. Hopefully, the state government will use these resources wisely and not allow them to end up as loot in private hands.
Can Bihar be helped? Write to us at email@example.com