09/01/2008, 00.00
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Half a million refugees, Bihar drowns under water and government incompetence

On the border with Nepal, a race against time is on to save the refugees. Entire villages are submerged; aid efforts are ineffective because of lack of coordination. Bangladesh at risk of spillover flooding.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Half a million people are fighting against the fury of the water to escape death, while aid efforts conducted by the Indian government are "ineffective" because of "disorganization and lack of coordination".

The situation in Bihar, a state in northwest India on the border with Nepal, is becoming increasingly dramatic because of the flooding that has the region on its knees. According to the latest estimates, the total number of refugees could reach 1.2 million, homeless and without food, while the central government is being deluged with criticism over its inability to act decisively in the hours following the catastrophe.

Witnesses say that "absolute chaos" reigns in the area: people are fighting over emergency resources, humanitarian aid is being left on the trucks because of the lack of coordination for distribution, and entire villages in the state are still submerged under the water.

Initial estimates say that 75 people have died, but this number seems destined to increase when the waters begin to recede and a more precise idea of the real extent of the devastation becomes available. Aid workers fear that entire villages have been wiped out by the force of the current, and that a precise count of the victims will be possible only after days have past.

To address the emergency, the Indian government has sent more than 3,300 soldiers to the area, to which are added 21 medical teams, 14 centers for the distribution of drinking water, and 500 tents, each capable of accommodating 20 people. But the problem of lack of coordination remains, making the aid efforts ineffective.

Before striking India, the flooding hit neighboring Nepal: according to initial estimates, more than 50,000 people were left homeless there, but the real problem is represented by the health emergency. Epidemics of diarrhea and pneumonia are feared.

Now the alarm is being raised for Bangladesh, which could repeat the disasters seen in Nepal and India in the next 48 hours. It is feared that tens of thousands of people could be submerged under the flooding of the three main rivers in the country: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna.

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