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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 August 2007, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Seeking food in a flooded land
By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Janakpur, Nepal

Nepal floods (Pic: Mark Dummett)
Many roads and bridges have been washed away by the floods

The road heading south to India has been washed away.

Soldiers now ferry families wanting to reach the border over a river which was not here last week.

Men hold bicycles above their heads as they wade through water which reaches up to their armpits. They then push them over a beach of wet sand.

Villagers say that there also used to be houses here, but they too have disappeared.

Dulari Kapar sells snacks from under the tattered awning of a tiny shelter. Her deep fried pakoras are popular with the frustrated and wet travellers, but her business does not compensate for what she has lost.

"This is my house now, nothing is left," she says. "The flood swept away everything else."

Devastating

The waters are receding fast across the Terai, a strip of paddy fields and fruit groves in southern Nepal.

In their wake they are leaving a landscape of damaged buildings, collapsed embankments, destroyed bridges and waterlogged fields.

Map

Dozens of heavily-populated districts were affected - struck first by the heaviest monsoon rains many people can remember, then by swollen rivers gushing down from the Himalayas.

These burst their banks in devastating fashion, first across the Terai, and then in the neighbouring Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Politicians in the Indian states complain that Nepal should have done more to prevent the floods, but it is not clear how anyone could have controlled such a huge and unexpected amount of water.

"It was midnight when the flood entered our village," says Indrasingh Devi, an elderly woman who lives near the border town of Jaleswor.

"We had a good house with a tiled roof and a happy family of 13 members. But there is now nothing left. Who is left to even offer me a glass of water?"

But the destruction has been selective. The brick houses of the relatively well-off and those of people living in towns have mostly survived.

The worst affected have been the thatch and mud homes of poor people living on the edges of villages, close to the paddies and rivers.

No help

Pula Devi and her family of five are now living in a school. They have nowhere else to stay, because their house is now in ruins.

Ramananda Mandal (Pic: Mark Dummett)
Ramananda Mandal says many do not have enough to eat
"We haven't received any help from the government or anyone else. We have only been able to buy food after borrowing money from a shopkeeper," she says.

The relief effort is being directed by the home ministry and the Nepalese Red Cross, assisted by the UN and other NGOs, but they are struggling to get aid to everyone.

The roads have been cut in so many places that supplies cannot be transported easily, and aid workers admit they have little idea of what the situation is like in far-flung communities.

"We are trying, but there is a big problem with the roads. There are some places we still haven't reached," Ashok Manpandey of the Red Cross in Janakpur says.

'Big problem'

The situation is complicated because the Nepalese government is barely functioning in many parts of the Terai plains. There have been months of violent protests against the authorities.

Nepal floods (Pic: Mark Dummett)
Relief agencies are finding it difficult to transport supplies
Some people of the Terai, known as Madheshis, are demanding a greater say in the running of the country and an end to what they describe as centuries of discrimination at the hands of highland Nepalis.

According to recent press reports, 700 civil servants have fled the Terai this year and moved back to the mountains.

The result is that even in villages close to Janakpur - an important administrative and religious town - people complain that they have received little help.

"Most of the people are poor and they don't have food to eat," says Ramananda Mandal of Basbitti village told me.

"They only gave us 2kg of beaten rice and a little sugar, which we have already eaten. People like us have a big problem."

On the whole though, the villagers of the Terai are not starving - this is a food producing region, and traders, unlike the relief agencies, have not been put off by the logistical challenges of moving supplies.

But people need help and it will take some time for this region to recover.




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