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Bihar braces for Kosi’s water wall

The Bihar government on Sunday ordered the forcible evacuation of people living in the regions between Kosi river and its embankments in eight districts of the state.

“We have invoked the provisions of the Disaster Management Act to initiate forcible evacuation of the population living in the Kosi’s danger zone. So far, we have evacuated 44,000 people, but over 60,000 are still present between the river and its embankments,” Disaster Management Department (DMD) Special Secretary Anirudh Kumar told reporters.

The state government has said that it is also taking preventive measures to save people living around the embankments.

A 10-metre wall of water was expected to sweep down the Kosi from its main catchment area in Nepal and reach Bihar between late Sunday evening and early Monday morning. Districts that would be affected include Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, Khagaria, Bhagalpur, Araria, Purnia and Madhubani.

A crisis-like situation has been developing in the region since a massive landslide took place around at 2 am on Friday night, following heavy rains, in Jure in Nepal’s Sindhupalchok district, 260 km from the Bihar-Nepal border. Eight people have died while more than a hundred are missing.

The landslide blocked the Bhote Kosi, one of the seven main rivers that make up the Kosi. An 4-km-long artificial lake was formed, with water levels reached 2.7 million cusecs within hours of the landslide.

“We expect a lot of water in the river by late Sunday night or Monday morning,” said Bihar Water Resources Minister Vijay Chaudhary. Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who did an aerial survey of the region, said the situation was “serious”.

A senior official of the Disaster Management Department said: “We are flashing messages through loudspeakers. Our officials are also asking people to move to higher grounds and relief camps. It is tough to make people leave their homes, but we are trying to save as many lives as possible.”

On Saturday afternoon, the Nepalese Army conducted two low-intensity blasts to partially remove the landslide debris blocking the Bhote Kosi.

At least 125,000 million cusecs was discharged downstream due to the blasting.

Supaul has been made the headquarters of the evacuation, relief and rescue operations. The state government has opened 120 relief camps for humans and 17 camps for cattle. Schools and colleges have been closed in these areas and those on the higher grounds have been converted into relief camps.

On Sunday, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth chaired three emergency meetings of National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC).

Twelve companies of the NDRF have arrived in Bihar, while three others are on their way. Five other companies in neighbouring states have been kept on stand-by. The Centre has also dispatched several columns of the Army to assist the state government in evacuation and relief works. Two Army columns have already taken position in Supaul and Saharsa districts, while three other columns are on move from Sukna (West Bengal). Several aircrafts and choppers have also been put into service for the relief work. The Centre has also sent an A-32 aircraft to Purnia, while a C-17 has been dispatched from New Delhi with doctors and relief materials. Several helicopters, including a couple of M-17 and two Chetak helicopters, have also reached Bihar. The Centre has also assured that there is no dearth of food grains in the affected areas and the FCI godowns have more than enough stocks.

The Centre has also dispatched a team of experts to Nepal to assist the Nepalese Army in blasting away the landslide debris in a step-by-step manner, so that the accumulated water is discharged slowly.

With a basin covering Tibet, Nepal and Bihar, the Kosi is one of the most flood-prone rivers in South Asia. Formed by seven rivers in eastern Nepal’s Mahabharat range, it enters the plains of north Bihar as a single stream before diving into distributaries and forming an “alluvial fan”. It eventually merges with the Ganges.

On August 18, 2008, 2008, a breach in an embankment on the Kosi at Kushaha in Nepal had brought one of the most disastrous floods in Bihar. The river changed its course, killing hundreds of people and displacing around 30 lakh people. The incident also brought wide scale destruction of agriculture over 8 lakh acres.

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