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Bihar: Stories from survivors

September 2008 -- Large areas of Bihar are under water after the Kosi River, also known as the "River of Sorrow", breached flood defences in neighbouring Nepal, changing its course and washing away crops, people and livestock in its wake.

Ganga Mandal who lived with his family in trees and on rooftops before being rescued by boat.
Ganga Mandal who lived with his family in trees and on rooftops before being rescued by boat.
Photo : EC/ECHO/Malini Morzaria

According to the Indian Government, over four million people have been impacted by the floods and over 200,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed.

With an immediate €2 million for humanitarian assistance to the flood hit communities of Bihar and Nepal, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department quickly deployed a team to visit a few of the worst affected districts in Bihar (Madhepura, Supaul and Saharsa) to assess the humanitarian needs of the population.

The European Commission’s team met its implementing partners; non governmental organisations (NGOs) and United Nations (UN) agencies. They also met with Government officials to evaluate any gaps in the humanitarian response, and to see if further funding was required to address the impact of the catastrophe in Bihar. The team came back with witness accounts from the people impacted by the floods.

In Madhepura, the EC team had to take a tractor to reach some of the less submerged sites. With 80 percent of the district under water, the area resembled a large lake with floating debris. People displaced by the floods had taken refuge in schools, colleges, hostels and other concrete structures in the town.

Renu Devi
“I have three small children under the age of five years old and any day I will give birth to my fourth child. The roads are full of water, and we have heard that the hospital is also flooded and not functioning. My children will not stay alone if I have to go and give birth in a hospital; my husband is not the type to look after the children and my mother-in-law neither and the children are too young to accept my departure. So I will deliver here in this shelter and there is no midwife within this community; I am a little afraid but it is God’s will, as it always is"

Mohamed Sanim
“I am a manual labourer in Madhepura town. In my 40 years, I have never seen such waters before. In 1987 there was a flood that came up to our knees and two days later, the water had receded. This time the water just rose and rose. Finally after six days we decided to leave our water-filled home that was crumbling into mush. I came with my eight children and wife, and some other villagers and it took us a day to get to this college as we walked and part swam, and then finally took a boat [bamboo propelled country boat] to reach here. I am worried about when we can return and how we shall be able to live. There is no more work, everyone is suffering and nothing is working any more.”
The Commission team witnessed the arrival of a boatload of people from Chattepur village near Supaul town. As Ganga Mandal alighted from the search and rescue boat, he recounted his past weeks’ ordeal:

“For the last fifteen days we have been living in trees and rooftops with our children and other villagers stranded and living on the food that the government helicopters dropped from the air, but we could not cook it, there was not fuel and it was too wet to cook anything; we lived on dry flour and we drank the water of the floods, it was dirty so we worried about the health of the children especially the young ones. Sometimes we ate crushed leaves from trees to stave off the hunger pangs. The water [flood] came so suddenly at three in the morning and with such force, the current was high and we lost all our livestock, all our cows and oxen. In my seventy years of life, I have never seen this.

When I was little, my grandfather used to talk about the Kosi and how it could flow through my village. I never believed it and thought it to be a legend, but dear God, I believe it now.

The Commission continues to work with its partners to bring relief to the victims of these terrible floods.


Malini Morzaria
Regional Information Officer, South Asia