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Ediorials and Commentaries on Nepal, South Asia Floods

World editorials and commentaries focus on aiding victims of the killer floods. Some lament governments are not doing enough to prevent such disasters.

The following are a a few selected editorials and op-ed pieces in world's media commenting on the recent wave of monsoon floods in Nepl and South Asia. More updates will follow.

A trail of destruction, The Hindu, August 9, 2007
The South-West monsoon, in a burst of fury, has left a trail of death and destruction in the central, northern, eastern and north-eastern parts of the country. Although the monsoon arrived on time, it initially progressed rather haltingly, raising fears of the year ending with a rainfall deficiency. But it gathered strength in July and has since wrought havoc in Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Assam and many other parts of the north-east and, more recently , in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Over 1400 lives have been lost, and close to 15 million people badly affected. At least 70,000 dwellings have been washed away in Bihar alone. Once again, the administration in most States has proved unequal to the task of coping with the monsoon’s onslaught. It is indeed disturbing that, despite the availability of a much more precise forecast from the Indian Meteorology Department and a vast media network that promptly reaches out to the people with cyclone and flood warnings, the administrative machinery in most States has not taken enough advance steps to ensure people’s safety and, worse, failed to carry out rescue and relief operations within an acceptable time frame. For instance in Assam and Bihar, there are reports of relief supplies not reaching thousands of marooned families in a large number of villages even a week after the floods.

Of course, the Defence forces have come to the aid of civil authorities in handling what has now come to be seen as a routine rescue and relief operation. Yet, whether in Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, or parts of Andhra Pradesh, the relief and emergency supplies provided for the affected people have been woefully inadequate. About a third of the districts in the country have reported rainfall in excess of what they normally receive during this monsoon. The cycle of depressions and the rains they bring to the east coast has not ended. Averting the imminent danger of epidemics breaking out in these areas should now be the focus of government attention. The Centre should assist these States not only in reaching food and relief supplies and providing temporary shelters urgently but also in taking on the challenges to public health. The aftermath of the current bouts of rain is yet to be felt in all its ramifications. It is a pity that most States have failed to adopt advance measures and to put in place an effective monsoon preparedness plan. When even a metropolis like Mumbai fails the test, what can one say of cities such as Guwahati and Patna, leave alone the hundreds of villages that go through this trauma every year?

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Taking action on global warming, The Irish Times, August 9, 2007
Record extremes of weather throughout the world this year are vividly documented in the latest report from the World Meteorological Organisation. Heavy rainfall and flooding, cyclones, wind storms, heat waves and rare snowfall are "outside historical norms" in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Many of these reports have made the headlines, but this authoritative account brings them together in telling detail and identifies definite trends which make overall sense of them.

While no one particular extreme event can necessarily be blamed directly on changing weather patterns, the report says research by its associate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), shows human-induced global warming through the burning of fossil fuels is now unequivocal. This year's events are utterly consistent with that pattern. The global linear warming trend over the last 50 years is nearly twice that for the last 100 years, and the rate of change is increasing. Projections indicate it is "very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent".

This means there will be more heavy monsoon depressions like those which have devastated India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - killing at least 500 people, displacing 10 million and destroying vast areas of croplands, livestock and property. The first recorded cyclone in the Arabian Sea which affected 20,000 people and caused 50 deaths in Oman is likely to be repeated. So is the wettest summer to have hit England since records began in 1766 - although it could strike neighbouring Ireland next time. And the heat waves affecting south-eastern Europe over the last two months in which dozens have died and huge stretches of forest have been destroyed by wildfire will also recur. Put differently, the IPCC reports that 11 of the last 12 years are the warmest since reliable records began in 1850. As William Reville points out today in his weekly science column "the odds of such warm sequential years happening by chance are minuscule".

So we now know the association between global warming caused by human activity and changing weather patterns is scientifically established to the highest levels of credibility possible. The time has come to take urgent action to correct it. Humanity has about a decade to halt and then reverse carbon gas emissions before fundamental and irreversible environmental change occurs which would overwhelm us.

The IPCC will report next month on what can best be done, whether by precise targeting of reductions, taxation, radical changes in lifestyle, technological innovation or trading schemes. An international summit in Bali next December will make strategic decisions on how to proceed. We must hope this year's extreme weather events will reinforce the determination to tackle the issue with the radicalism and imagination required, rather than to postpone or fudge painful decisions. Public debate and pressure are essential to ensure this is so.

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Aid a mere trickle for flood hit, The New Zealand Herald, August 6, 2007
Aid agencies were struggling yesterday to get relief to millions of villagers marooned in north-east India, Nepal and Bangladesh who have been hit by devastating floods, as the Red Cross warned that as few as 2 per cent of those affected were getting the help they needed.

Up to 20 million people across the whole of south Asia are believed to have been affected by the most severe monsoon rains in living memory, according to Unicef. Eastern India was facing a health crisis as hospitals in the region were overwhelmed by people suffering from waterborne diseases. Health workers and aid groups in Assam in north-east India were working around the clock to treat and feed many of the three million people displaced or surrounded by floodwaters with the limited medicines and supplies available.

Elsewhere, villagers were getting desperate and hungry. "Our family survived for a week on buffalo milk, but now the animal has stopped producing milk as it has gone without food for days," said Meghu Yadav, a villager in the Samastipur district of impoverished Bihar state in the north of the country.

Devendra Tak of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said: "There are many millions of people who are really in anguish, marooned in water, and relief has really not reached enough people."

The scale of the devastation remains unclear. Unicef said the situation was "still so overwhelming" that it was proving difficult to estimate the numbers of people displaced and killed, but news agencies reported that at least 1100 had so far died.

Army helicopters dropped emergency food supplies for villagers stranded in Bihar, and aid organisations were trying to reach remote regions of the state in boats loaded with vital provisions.

In Bihar, the worst affected area in India, where as many as 70,000 homes are thought to have been destroyed, villagers built temporary encampments on railway tracks or raised highways. The Army began to evacuate people and bring help to the estimated 10 million in the state affected by the floods.

In the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, villagers were seen by TV news crews clinging to treetops and screaming for help. "The gush of water was so sudden we did not get the time to react," Vinod Kumar, a resident of one village, said.

"Even people accustomed to flooding perceive the severity of this one," said Marzio Babille, Unicef India's head of health. He estimated that half a million children under five in the state were not getting the help they needed.

Protests broke out across the state as resentment at the local government mounted over a perceived failure to protect residents from the effects of the annual monsoon. One person was killed and more than 20 injured during clashes with the police.

Beyond the immediate misery, aid agencies warned that the long-term implications would be severe. Waterborne diseases will strike as the floodwaters become stagnant and polluted. Outbreaks of cholera, malaria, encephalitis and typhoid are expected to follow the receding waters.

The economic damage is likely to be severe, with harvests ruined and seed stocks destroyed. "In some areas, livelihoods are completely gone. The scale of it is unprecedented," said a Unicef spokeswoman.

The damage was not restricted to rural regions. In parts of Mumbai, television images showed fathers wading through waist-high water carrying children on their heads to seek hospital treatment.

There was also frustration in Delhi, which has been drenched in monsoon rains all week, at the failure of the local government to protect the city; roads were blocked and highways washed away. An editorial in the Hindustan Times said: "Come the rains and life goes down the drains."

Some seven million people have been affected in Bangladesh, where floods have spread to 41 of the nation's 64 districts.

"We have been virtually starving for several days but there seems to be no one to come to help us," said Majeda Begum, perched on the roof of her house in Manikganj district with her 5-year-old granddaughter.

In north west Bangladesh, farmer Rahmat Sheikh and his family were among 2000 people who fled his village for higher ground.

"The floods have taken away all I had. Rice paddies in the field, two cows and my house all are gone. I don't know how we will survive."

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Unnatural Disasters, Nepali Times, August 3, 2007

Every year it is the same story: monsoon rains gushing down the mountains create floods downstream in the plains. The government is blamed for not rushing relief fast enough. The Indians are blamed for building embankments across the border. The Biharis blame Nepal. And everyone blames god for unleashing a natural disaster.

Lost in this post-event flood of recrimination is the fact that there is nothing natural about the annual loss of life and damage to crops and property. Granted, the Himalayan arc is a region prone to water-induced disasters: this geologically young and fragile mountain range itself acts as a monsoon trap, setting off the highest precipitation rates in the world in the most-densely populated mountain region in the world.

Combined, the topography and climate make the Nepal Himalaya vulnerable to landslides and floods. But these are givens, and generations of our forebears have learnt to live with the dangers. Himalayan habitations are mostly situated along ridgelines or protected river banks, in the plains traditional homes are built on stilts and farmers depend on nutrients washed down in the silt to fertilise their fields.

What has changed, is that population pressure has forced people to live on slopes exposed to slides and encroach along flood plains. Lacking traditional community ties and a historical memory of coping with floods, they are helpless when the waters rise. Entire cities have sprung up in the plains blocking natural drainage. Badly designed road embankments and even flood protection levees act as dams, impounding runoff instead of protecting people from floods.

Rivers will find their natural path to the sea no matter what, and protecting one area from floods inevitably means submerging another. Usually it is the cities, rich farmlands, infrastructure that are protected and this means it is the poorest areas and the most marginalised groups that suffer floods. A tally of flood victims this year has direct correlation with social inequities. Reflected in the flood waters every year is the manmade disaster of governance failure .

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[Note: The above editorials are lifted from the websites of respective newspapapers. If you own copyright to the above texts and would not like us to excerpt them, please email us at contact@nepalmonitor.com and we will immediately remove them from our website]


Posted by Editor on August 9, 2007 12:49 PM