06/21/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Assam Church reaches out to flood victims

by Prakash Dubey

This year, the floods struck this Indian north-eastern state a month early. Sixteen people have died and more than half a million have been displaced. The emergency alert remains high in several parts of the territory.

Siliguri (AsiaNews) – The Church of Assam "has responded to the tragedy caused by this year's floods in close collaboration with the state government, and it also prays that the fury of nature may lessen", said Allen Brooke. The public relations officer of the Archdiocese of Dispur was talking to AsiaNews about the crisis sparked by floods and landslides that struck the north-eastern state of Assam: 27 districts were devastated, 16 people killed and at least 500,000 people were displaced.

According to the Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation minister of the state, Bhumidhar Barman, the situation was "ever more precarious" and the army was asked to remain on standby with motor boats and divers to rescue or evacuate people affected by the disaster. The state ministry said nearly 70,000 hectares were submerged and some 520,000 persons were displaced.

According to the Central Water Commission bulletin, Brahmaputra River – that flows through the state – was once again above the danger level at several places and was at risk of overflowing again. The government said: "Despite the damage caused at all levels, not least to the telecommunications sector", the authorities have still managed to "ensure distribution of food and other essentials."

The Church of Assam intervened immediately: "We have a policy of helping flood victims in collaboration with the state administration," said Brooke. "This helps us to avoid overlapping and waste. Besides, the administration has a wide ranging perspective of needs and is in a position to know about the flood havoc in the remotest parts of the state. So once we are given a 'mission' from the administration, we rush to the places where we are needed most. We have a 'specialization' in relief aid, we work where we are asked to, usually in health services and food distribution."

Brooke said the emergency had reached such serious proportions "because of the unusually early onset of the rains". He continued: "Usually, such heavy downpour comes in July, but this year, it came much earlier. So we all have been caught unawares to cope with the emergency, but we are trying to respond as well as we can."

The Church of Assam "is not new to emergency operations. We have been present during all kinds of crises that strike the state and we try to help the most desperate people." Added Brookes: "In 2004, the floods killed 200 people and 12 million people were displaced. The Church joined in the struggle against the fury of nature but we also pray that it may not happen again."

The flooding of Brahmputra River – which is one of the longest rivers of the entire Asian continent at 2,906km – also affected Kaziranga National Park, the home of one-horned rhinoceros. The animals were rescued but the park suffered severe structural damage.

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