Bursting at the seams

The bursting of two spurs on Monday of the Saptakosi embankment situated in west Kusaha of Sunsari district has put six VDCs in a spate of water, and dozens of people are reported to have been washed away, with many more still out of contact. More than 50,000 people have already been displaced. There is no accounting of the total loss in lives and property, as of Tuesday, even two army helicopters pressed into service could not do much rescue work because of the unavailability of landing space. As many boats as possible should be brought into operation to speed up rescue operations. The surging waters have also damaged a 5-km stretch of the East-West Highway and a bridge, therefore cutting off road links between the east of the damaged road section and the west of it. Many bighas of standing crops and, according to an estimate, over 5,000 houses have been submerged. People were waiting for rescue on the roofs of houses, branches of trees and other makeshift shelters, and a number of them are yet to be taken to safer places.

By way of immediate humanitarian relief, the government has decided to release Rs.22 million, with more to follow after need assessment. The Central Natural Disaster Rescue Committee meeting headed by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) has asked the ministries of foreign affairs and water resources to take up the issue with the Indian side immediately for concerted action aimed at limiting the damage. There are also reports of the possibility of yet another spur caving in. Under the Kosi Agreement, the Kosi Barrage has been

leased to India for ninety-nine years, and India is responsible for any repairs and maintenance. The Indian embassy, in a statement on Tuesday, has, however, blamed Nepal’s local authorities because, it claimed, they ignored frequent Indian requests for immediate action to avert embankment collapse. However, it is debatable if the request for cooperation made on the eve of the collapse had been early enough to avert the disaster.

In the past, there have been media reports from time to time of the danger of spurs giving way. In Nepal, however, several organisations and people have alleged Indian indifference for the disaster. But the need of the hour is not the blame game, but cooperation and coordination — to rescue trapped people, provide food and other essentials to the affected, take care of the health of the injured or those down with diseases that are likely to spread under such conditions, at the same time mounting reconstruction and repairs on war footing to stop further damage. It is at cooler moments later on that blame may be apportioned, and medium — or long-term solutions effectively sought. On Nepal’s part, there has been a perennial and debilitating drawback — the Nepali political leaders and officials have generally been not bold enough to take up effectively with the Indian side issues of vital concern to

Nepal and the Nepalis. Nepal and India are friendly neighbours, and any problems should be resolved amicably. Whether the Maoist-led new government can make a refreshing departure in this respect remains to be tested.