South Asia: Floods devastate 28 million lives

"Nothing – there’s nothing to go back to…"

"Daily wage labourers Shiv Sagar Sahni and his young son Sugarth Sahni had a thatched house, two goats and 2,000 rupees (£24) until a fortnight ago.

"Now they are a penniless and famished family of eight taking shelter in National Highway 57… sharing a little space under a black polythene sheet and wooden cot, the Sahni family is among millions in the flood ravaged northern Indian state of Bihar who have been stranded either on raised national highways, railway tracks or the rooftops of some government buildings." BBC 9 August 2007.

This is only one example of the devastating consequences that this year’s monsoon has brought to south Asia. Aid agencies have estimated that 28 million people living in India, Nepal and Bangladesh have been displaced and forced to flee their homes as a result of floods that have seen the levels of some rivers rise nine or ten metres.

Along with villages being submerged in water and tracts of farmland being destroyed, it is believed that 2,300 people have been killed as a result of the floods. Tragically this figure is set to rise as the stagnant waters are likely to lead to an outbreak of diseases such as malaria and cholera. One non-governmental organisation has estimated that 20,000 people alone in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India are suffering from waterborne diseases.

Like others disasters that have hit the Indian sub continent such as the Tsunami in late December 2004 and the earthquake that hit Pakistan in 2005, this death and destruction brought by the monsoon will be regarded by "official" commentators as a natural occurrence that cannot be averted. While it is true that monsoon rains hit this region every year between June and September (this wet season provides 80% of India’s rainfall) there is nothing "natural" about the response to this disaster.

Despite the much talk of India’s booming economy, UNICEF believes that aid and medical supplies are not reaching areas worst hit by the floods due to an acute shortage of helicopters. The lack of resources being delivered to treat the disaster is likely to prolong and deepen the anguish of the victims.

Unlike the Tsunami disaster, which received far more media coverage, capitalist governments internationally have not been forced to cough up (or promise to cough up) money to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the floods. Up until now the biggest donation has been £25 million given by the Saudi government. It is a damning indication of where the priorities of Bush and his ilk lie given that they have spent $500 billion on the war in Iraq, yet have once again shown a callous indifference to the plight of those suffering from devastating disasters such as this.

Another aspect of this disaster showing it is not a natural phenomenon is the inadequate nature of the flood management in the region. It is clear that a lack of resources has meant that embankments have not been properly maintained. This lack of investment is particularly evident when new building projects have taken place. Also due to competition for land more people now live in areas prone to flooding.

It is quite clear that more and better aid is needed to provide food, water and emergency medical supplies for the victims of the floods. Committees of workers and poor people should be elected that can democratically control how the aid is adequately spent and distributed. These committees should be also given the necessary resources to invest in proper flood defences where they are needed to prevent further disasters. Resources should be given to compensate poor farmers affected by the heavy rainfall as well as an emergency programme being established to rebuild the homes of the floods’ victims.

This year India will mark the 60th anniversary of its independence from British colonial rule. Along with the devastating poverty that still exists in countries such as India and Bangladesh, the preventable scale of this disaster shows how the local capitalist rulers have failed the people of this region 60 years after this momentous event. The floods that have ruined the lives of millions once again sharply pose the need for the building of a mass socialist movement that challenge capitalism and landlordism on the Indian sub continent.

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