An evacuated woman dried grain on railway tracks in Bihar after being forced from her home by flood waters in August 2017. Photo: Diptendu Dutta / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

By Suhasini Raj and Jeffrey Gettleman
7 September 2017

MURMALA, India (The New York Times) – As the floodwaters sloshed into her hut, Phoolvati, a poor and landless woman living in a farming village in Bihar State, scrambled to grab some jewelry, a soccer ball and a wad of rupees — the last of the family’s meager treasure. She hurriedly stuffed it all into a big aluminum box.

Men from the village were rowing a small boat as fast as they could, to get people out before they drowned.

“Take this,” she told her 10-year-old daughter, Bahomani. There wasn’t enough room in the boat for everyone. “I’ll see you on the other side.”

Phoolvati watched as her daughter climbed in, clutching the box. The boat pushed off, nearly disappearing behind a wall of rain.

Northern India, one of the country’s poorest regions, has been ravaged by some of the worst monsoon storms in recent years. Local officials pointed to a highway overpass about 15 feet above the ground and said that for the first time in living memory the water had risen above the bridge.

In a particularly severe season of storms and flooding around the world, the devastation in South Asia has been among the worst anywhere. The rains aren’t over yet, and already in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, more than 1,200 people have lost their lives.

Sadly, this happens every year. Deadly flooding is part of the landscape in South Asia, and over the past two decades an average of around 2,000 people have died each year, according to the International Disaster Database in Belgium.

But even by South Asian standards, what began as a slow storm season is entering a particularly intense second half. And despite all of India’s economic growth and the rapid infusion of mobile phones, computers, social media and other technology, millions of people in both rural and urban areas had no idea that dangerous weather was coming. Even some government officials said they had been given no warning.

Walking through a string of villages in Bihar, the state that was worst hit this past month, the reek of fermenting grain cuts through the moist air. Sacks of rice from government warehouses had been left outside during the storms. Now inedible, the rice is full of dead worms.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people now need that food. Across this area, more than 20,000 homes have been destroyed.

Here in the village of Murmala, in a fertile farming area about an hour and half’s drive from the nearest town, hundreds of displaced people are marooned in a closed-down, lightless middle school, getting chewed up by malarial mosquitoes.

Many have no land of their own and eke out livings by working on other people’s rice paddies. When the paddies are under several feet of water, there is no work.

“We did not buy any new clothes this Eid, and this has never happened before,” he said, referring to the Muslim holiday last week. “We go to sleep hungry, unable to even fill our stomachs with water because the hand pumps are churning out such dirty water.” […]

“We were taken completely by surprise,” said Pankaj Dixit, a district magistrate, the government official who runs the local administration. “We had no information whatsoever from any agency about the rising water levels.” [more]

They Thought the Monsoons Were Calm. Then Came the Deadly Floods.

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