The Curse of Kosi

India’s Bihar Drown in Water and Sorrow
By Roshni Mulchandani

The Kosi River is mentioned in many religious epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana and has great significance as a source of sustenance to the locals. Despite its religious history, the current state of the region is not so glorious: The faint cry of hungry children and deep, mournful sobbing from widowed spouses is evident all over the eastern state of Bihar. They mourn the loss of relatives, belongings, land and money. But more so, they grieve over the ineffectiveness and incompetency of the Indian government. The overflowing of the Kosi River last August has literally washed away their hopes and lives, leaving poor farmers deep in water and debt, both which don’t seem to drain. The problem, however, has occurred because of the lack of maintenance of this monumental river, causing a phenomenal amount of flooding followed by catastrophe, all which have transpired regularly over the last several years.

Before the flooding, the river was known for its fast water speed and heavy silt deposit, making it ideal for farming in the area. Now, the excess water has caused the river to change course, break the dam (located along the border of Nepal and India) and flood suburban Bihar, causing widespread mayhem and chaos. While the government has conveniently blamed the monsoon rains for overflowing the Kosi River (which flows from Nepal to India), the actual cause of the flooding can be attributed to the lack of maintenance from authorities on both sides of the border. This problem was initially fixed with the building of the barrier that controlled the water flow. However, between both sides of the border, authorities have failed to keep up regular repairs of the embankment, leading it to crumble and cause one of the worst floods in India. The government personnel and engineers have looked at the situation in consistently appalling ways. They were allocated the job of regulating the river, but instead lived up to their tainted reputation of swimming in black money and as usual, putting the life of innocent civilians at risk because of their negligence.

The government has been internationally criticized for its delay in assisting the victims of the flood. Monsoon season is always a time for caution and the local authorities are aware of potential flooding all over India. Voluntary rescuers claim that children and women were crying for food as they climbed aboard overloaded blow-up ships with close to 18 people (that were only made to seat 10) in a single ride. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who have taken it upon themselves to help these people claim the government has not taken any necessary steps to coordinate rescue operations, medical help, shelter and food. The government argues that food was sent via airplanes to be distributed. So where did it go? With money being washed away, locals have resorted to alternative ways of making ends meet and cashing in on the distress of fellow villagers by charging a fee for rescuing those stranded in waist deep water. With heightened desperation among the victims, the government should have intervened as soon as the flood hit, but even after the cries and wails, all was neglected and help was nowhere in sight.

While authorities are choosing to remain relaxed about the situation, the people of Bihar are suffering at great lengths. Waterborne diseases such as cholera and malaria are popping up frequently and the rise of decaying bodies in water is not helping the situation. Hospitals are unable to cope with overload of patients and lack of medication, staff and continual water logging. Additionally, starvation is perhaps the biggest problem and the lack of available food is causing children to die of undernourishment. Socially, Bihar has always been a state of controversies and the recent flood has added to this mayhem. Women and young girls who have been left alone to fetch for themselves now are not only left alone, but are also prone to sexual harassment and rape. If that wasn’t bad enough, mothers are being forced to sell their daughters into prostitution and marriage. Abandoned wives are becoming the norm in this part of Bihar as husbands are unable to support their families.
To say people are angry would be an understatement. And why shouldn’t they be? They have every reason to be disgusted and disgruntled with the way the government has taken no action to help them in their time of need. Young children are now being exposed to social trauma, mental angst and scarring. The increasing death toll speaks for itself as they multiply and the incompetence of the Indian government becomes more evident not only to India but to the world too. NGOs are overwhelmed as they pack in people into relief camps that are over capacity and unable to accommodate anymore victims. One would think that with hindsight and the fact that the same flood occurs nearly every year, the Indian government would have firstly, learned from the previous floods to be prepared for the worse of situations and secondly, taken a stance to actually maintain and repair any breaks in the embankment. When the government is questioned, they play the blame game declaring that repairs from Nepal’s border need to be made effective immediately. The Nepali government claims otherwise. However, it’s not the time for nit-picking or finding faults. Instead authorities need to rise above the chaos and make immediate relief efforts to help the millions who are suffering. They have an enormous task ahead and work needs to start now. Locals see no hope and are relying on external sources for help. As of now, the only resolution lies with the relief funds being operated by the common man.

Edited by Maya Champaneri

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