2,000 feared dead as floods swamp hundreds of Indian villages

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The Independent Online

Up to 2,000 people are feared dead after a river changed course, flooding hundreds of villages in the Indian state of Bihar. Stranded villagers were surviving on uncooked rice mixed with dirty water, as authorities struggled to deliver aid to the displaced millions after the worst floods to hit the eastern state in 50 years.

Around 90 people have been confirmed dead by officials, but aid agencies believe the death toll is much higher. Unicef said more than 1,000 villages had been affected by surging waters, which submerged thousands of homes and damaged water and electricity supplies. An estimated 100,000 hectares of farmland is thought to have been ruined.

Heavy rain and damaged roads continued to hamper aid efforts, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without food and clean water. Rapid changes in the river's course have forced many people to move shelter several times, and to sell precious livestock just to survive.

One villager, Sabia Devi, said: "I sold my goat for just 50 rupees, which on any other day could have brought me 2,000 rupees."

Monsoon floods are an annual event in this area, but the Kosi river burst a dam in neighbouring Nepal this month, deluging Bihar and flooding villages in its path as authorities failed to evacuate millions of people in time.

About 350,000 people have been evacuated in Bihar over the past 10 days, but aid agencies have raised concerns over hygiene conditions at government-run relief camps.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the head of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, flew over devastated areas last Thursday. They said £125m in aid would be made available.

Nitish Mishra, Bihar's disaster management minister, said: "Rains are killing our rescue and relief efforts."