Flood threat looms over Bihar after landslide in Nepal

2.5 million cusecs of water expected to flood Kosi region following controlled blasts to release water from blocked transboundary river

 
By Alok Gupta
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

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A major landslide in Sindhupalchowk district of Nepal that blocked the Sun Kosi river for nearly 11 hours has led to flood threat in seven districts of Bihar. The river is a part of the Kosi or Saptakoshi river that flows through Bihar. The state government has sounded high alert and ordered evacuation from villages inside the Kosi embankment.

Around 2.5 million cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water is on the way to Kosi dam from Nepal. Nearly 1 million cusecs of water will reach Kosi embankments that is likely to increase water table by around 10 metre, say officials. However, water was flowing at a safe level even on Monday morning.

The landslide that happened at around 2.20 am on Saturday reportedly killed eight persons and over 40 persons are reported missing in Jiru region of Nepal. A large lake, which was formed because of the river getting blocked, inundated three villages, prompting the Nepal army to launch rescue operations. On Monday morning, the figures rose to 10 persons dead and 155 persons missing.

Army personnel started controlled blasts at around 2.00 pm on Saturday to clear the landslide blocking the river. Altogether three controlled blasts were made to release the water, which led to water receding in Jiru.

Soon after the blasts, the government of Nepal alerted Bihar government of possible flood threat in the Kosi region of the state. Water from the controlled blast site was receding at 1mm per second. 

Alerted by the warning of Nepal government, principal secretary of Bihar Disaster Management, Vyas Ji called for an emergency meeting with the district magistrates of Saharsa, Supaul, Madhepura, Madhubani and Purnia, and ordered immediate evacuation from the villages inside the Kosi embankment.

The evacuation was started at around 6.00 pm. “We rushed 15 teams of state disaster response force (SDRF). Another seven teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are on way,” Vyas Ji said on Sunday.

The state government has also sought help of the Indian Army in case the water released by Nepal floods the districts.

Amidst the looming fear of floods, emergency telephone numbers and relief services have been also started in the districts facing flood threat.

All the 56 gates of Birpur barrage in Supaul district on Indo-Nepal border have been opened to let out the torrent expected.

The water was expected to reach Kosi region after midnight on intervening night of Sunday and Monday. Engineers and district administration officials claimed that evacuation has been completed and even cattle have been shifted to a high altitude.

Altogether, 12 relief camps have been established. 

Experts say that threat of floods is intense but the situation can be controlled if Nepal releases the water slowly. “The present rate of discharge by the Nepal government seems to be safe. The reserved water will slowly merge with rivers easing the flood threat,” Dinesh Mishra, a river expert said.

Kosi region suffered a major flood in 2008 after the embankment breached at Kusaha in Sunsari district of Nepal. Around 210 people were killed and nearly three million people displaced.

New air of cooperation

This is probably for the first time that a warning has been issued nearly 18 hours before the impending floods in the Kosi region.  

In the past, lack of cooperation and poor communications between the two countries led to the disastrous Kosi floods in 2008. Justice Rajesh Walia, a retired judge of Patna High Court who headed the inquiry commission on the 2008 floods, mentions the lack of trust between the two countries in his report. He has also pulled up the Bihar government for not maintaining friendly relations with Nepal. 

 Walia, in his action taken report on cause of Kosi floods, a copy of which is in possession of Down To Earth, has said that Bihar government refused to construct roads for the engineers of Nepal for monitoring work. 

 “Maintenance of the project on the Nepal side is a responsibility of Bihar government. Despite reiterated attempts this maintenance was not done,” the report stated. 

 Senior officials of SDRF accepted that there was severe lack of cooperation from both sides, leading to late information on 2008 Kosi floods. 

Anirudh Kumar, special secretary of state disaster management authority pointed out that unlike 2008, this year there had been constant exchange of information between Nepal and Bihar governments , after the formation of the new government in Nepal.

 “Nepal sent the first warning in 8.00 am about the decision for controlled blast at Jiru in Sindhupalchowk district. Both the governments had been constantly exchanging information since Saturday morning,” Kumar said.

 The visit of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi today to Nepal added to the cooperation of the between the both countries.  

According to PIB release, Modi has not only assured help to Bihar but also assured all possible assistance to Nepal to deal with the disaster. The open channels of diplomatic talks also built pressure on Nepal government to extend cooperation for information exchange. 

 Kumar also pointed out that in 2008 there was severe discord between the two countries. “A section of maintenance work in Kusaha on Nepal side was not completed after Maoists attacked Indian labourers and engineers. Our effort to seek cooperation from the Nepal government yielded no results,” he added. 

 NDRF and SDRF teams are on alert in the Supaul, Saharasa, Madhepura, Bhagalpur, Madhubani and Purnia in case water level threatens the Kosi embankment.  

Furore over Kosi Action Taken Report 
Meanwhike, the Bihar government placed Justice Walia action taken report on Kosi breach of 2008 before the state Legislative Assembly on the last day of the monsoon session on Friday (see Kosi floods inquiry report submitted, finally’. The report was submitted to the government in March, six years after the tragic flood disaster. 

Members of the Opposition led by Bhartiya Janta Party vehemently criticised the government for the late move. Leader of Opposition, Nand Kishore Yadav, alleged that the ruling party tabled the report on the last day deliberately to avoid discussion. 

“It was a national man-made disaster. The ruling JD(U) is tabling the report on last day to escape discussions,” Yadav said. 

Under attack from the opposition, Bihar water resources minister, Vijay Choudhary, apprised the House that a technical team has been constituted to study the report and ensure action against those responsible for the breach at Kusaha.

 “We will take stringent action against the guilty that led to disastrous floods,” he said. 

 The Justice Walia report on Kosi focuses on two aspects of floods. Part of it deals with the financial details of Kosi embankment maintenance. In the second part it fixes responsibility the department and people responsible for causes that led to the breach. 

 Another BJP MLA, Nitin Navin, was critical. He said though the report has been tabled before the Assembly, it has not been made public yet. 

 “Government is trying to shield the culprits responsible for the breach,” he alleged. 

The Kosi flood is termed as the worst flood in the history of Bihar. 

(Report last updated at 10.30 am)

 

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