Prachanda faces first crisis as PM, as floods wreak havoc (Lead)

August 19th, 2008 - 6:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 19 (IANS) Nepal’s Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”, who was sworn in as the republic’s first prime minister Monday, faced his first crisis within 24 hours as floods ravaged the border area, leaving over 35,000 people homeless.The 54-year-old former guerrilla chief who Monday took oath of office and secrecy in the name of the people, instead of god, strode into the Prime Minister’s Office in Singh Durbar, the heart of Nepal’s government where key ministries are located, at 10.30 a.m. Tuesday to combat the new crisis.

“The PM has ordered NRs.2 crore (Nepali Rs.20 million) to be released from the PM’s Relief Fund for the flood victims,” Maoist lawmaker Kiran Rai said.

“He has also ordered medical teams to rush to the area.”

Downpours Sunday night made the Saptakoshi river on the Indo-Nepal border swell ominously and lash the barrage over it, causing two supporting spurts to crumble.

The escaping flood water began creating a havoc in Sunsari district in Nepal as well as parts of Bihar state in India across the border.

Over 35,000 people became homeless overnight. Though three army helicopters and wooden-rubber dinghies were pressed into service to rescue villagers, over 10,000 still remained marooned.

Three people, missing since Monday, were feared to have been swept away by the swirling waters.

Hundreds of villagers were seen piling their salvageable possessions on tractors, cycles and rickshaws and fleeing to neighbouring villages as well as Indian border towns.

Nepal’s famed Koshi Wildlife Reserve is also said to be under threat from the rapidly advancing waters.

The East-West Highway that connects Nepal with India was flooded in parts and transport had come to a standstill.

The optical fibre network laid with Indian assistance to boost communications was badly damaged, disrupting telephone, mobile and Internet services in the Mechi and Koshi zones. Nepal Telecom said it would take at least seven days to repair the network.

Thousands had spent the night under plastic sheets at night while the rain still continued.

Prachanda held quick consultations with lawmakers from Sunsari district to discuss flood relief measures.

As sufferings increased, charges began to be levelled against India for the disaster.

A Nepali local development officer was reported as saying that the Kushaha barrage, built with the assistance of the Indian government, had used inferior construction material, causing the quick erosion of the spurs.

According to the Koshi river project pact, the Bihar government has to build, repair and maintain all spurs as well as embankments, Nepal’s official media said Tuesday.

Besides neglecting to repair the critical barrage, Indian officials were also accused of turning a deaf ear to pleas to open the sluice gates when the water level started rising.

“Nepal has lost millions due to the delay by the Indian side in opening the sluice gates,” Maoist mouthpiece Janadisha daily said Tuesday.

However, a leading politician from Bihar, who is in Nepal to congratulate the Maoist government, said Nepal had failed to allow the Bihar government to repair the barrage.

Leading a delegation to Kathmandu to attend Prachanda’s swearing-in ceremony, Sharad Yadav, leader of the Janata Dal-United party that leads Bihar’s ruling coalition, Tuesday said he would convey to the new prime minister the desire of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to visit Kathmandu.

Yadav said Nitish Kumar was keen to meet Prachanda to discuss the sharing of water resources.

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