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India flood stranded still wait

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Aerial footage shows the extent of the flooding that has devastated Bihar

Up to half a million people are still stranded by flood waters in the Indian state of Bihar, aid workers say.

Monsoon rains caused the river Kosi to change course, severely affecting areas in Bihar not normally prone to floods.

The authorities have been criticised for failing to rescue flood victims well over a week after the scale of the flooding became apparent.

Meanwhile monsoon waters have been causing havoc in India's Assam state, as well as in Nepal and Bangladesh.

A non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Bihar, Mandan Bharti Jagriti Samaj (MBJS), told the BBC News website that 500,000 people still needed to be rescued.

"They are on the roofs of concrete buildings like schools... they are crying in the wilderness," the MBJS' Narenda Kumarjha said.

"People's dead bodies are floating in the water along with the corpses of cattle. People are forced to drink that same water."

In one of the worst affected districts, Supaul, some 280 villages are still completely cut off, the NGO said.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas travelled on one small rescue boat in the district of Madhepura and saw submerged villages and railway lines. He says the flood waters stretched more than 100km (62.5 miles). "The rescue effort simply isn't very organised," he says.

People were being taken to dry areas and simply left to fend for themselves, our correspondent says.

Looting

Hundreds of villagers in Madhepura ransacked a food warehouse while police ran for cover, the Reuters news agency reports.

The looters also attacked government vehicles carrying food. "We cannot stop [these] incidents despite our best efforts," Bihar relief official Bijendra Prasad Yadav told Reuters.

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On Monday, the Indian army sent more soldiers, doctors and medical equipment to help with the rescue efforts.

So far about half a million people have been evacuated in Bihar. The official death toll is 75, but aid agencies say many more people have perished.

Tens of thousands of survivors have crowded into unsanitary relief camps, where tensions are growing over the desperate lack of emergency supplies.

With the numbers of people in the camps expected to nearly double in the coming days, there are fears that poor conditions could lead to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera.

The United Nations warned that "the heat, combined with limited supplies of safe drinking water and poor hygiene conditions, poses a great risk of water and vector-borne diseases".

The temporary camps are being supported by volunteers and community groups, but a lack of central co-ordination is hampering efforts.

In the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, monsoon rains have caused the Brahmaputra river to burst its banks, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

More than 100 villages have been completely submerged, officials said.

Man made disaster?

Arguments have developed over whether the Bihar flooding could have been prevented.

Stranded villagers wait on a roof for help
Stranded villagers wait on a roof for help

The disaster began on 18 August when the Kosi broke its eastern bank further north in Nepal, where the river is often called the Saptakoshi.

The river's flow is regulated by a barrage - on the Nepalese side of the border - which was built in the late 1950s.

Under a joint agreement India agreed to pay for the work and be responsible for its maintenance.

Some analysts point out that the structure was built only as a short-term solution, meant to last 20 or 30 years.

Others accuse the Indian government of having failed in its duty to maintain and repair the defences. If they had, they argue, the river could have been kept on course.

Indian engineers say the Nepalese authorities did not give them the safe access they needed to carry out the work and that there were labour problems.

Massive natural silting is also a major problem. Critics say joint efforts to control that silting were also inadequate this year.

In Nepal itself, officials say hundreds of people have been hit by illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, and an estimated 50,000 are homeless.

They say nearly 1,000 houses have been completely destroyed, and that power supplies and transport have been severely affected.

The costs to the economy are now estimated at one billion Nepalese rupees ($14.25m).

In Bangladesh, tens of thousands of villagers are reported to be cut off and there are fears that conditions will get worse.


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