Nepal declares emergency in Saptakosi flood areas (Third Lead)

September 4th, 2008 - 7:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Sep 4 (IANS) Faced with his first crisis within 72 hours of being sworn in, new Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” Thursday declared a state of emergency in the worst flood-devastated areas in southern Nepal to speed up rescue, relief and rehabilitation work.The newly expanded council of ministers held its first meeting at Singh Durbar, at the heart of Nepal’s administrative complex, to approve of the imposition of emergency in nine villages in Sunsari district in southern Nepal, where the breach in a barrage on the turbulent Saptakosi river last month unleashed havoc in both Nepal and India.

This is the first state of emergency imposed by the Maoist-led government. In the past, when the Maoists were waging an armed war against the state, they were at the receiving end of such measures taken by the then government.

The last time Nepal saw the proclamation of a state of emergency for political reasons was during the absolute rule of King Gyanendra in February 2005.

Health Minister Giriraj Mani Pokhrel said the cabinet meeting had also endorsed the formation of a three-member ministerial committee to oversee relief and rehabilitation.

Headed by Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam, who is also the home minister, the committee includes Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Magar “Badal” and Physical Planning and Works Minister Bijay Gachchedar.

The Maoist-led government also allocated NRS 2 billion 500 million for relief and rehabilitation measures, of which NRS 500 million is to be released immediately. The money comes from a NRS 6 billion assistance pledged by the European Union.

The declaration of emergency was propelled by the outbreak of water-borne diseases in the relief camps opened in Sunsari district as well as the areas in which homeless victims of the raging river have been huddling for shelter for over a fortnight now.

At least 12 people, including women and children, have died due to diarrhoea and fever while pneumonia and skin diseases were stalking the region, feeding fears of a massive epidemic.

The agriculture ministry has reportedly forwarded a detailed relief and rehabilitation plan to the cabinet for approval. It is also urging the Maoist supremo to waive the loans given to the farmers who lost their crop and land.

The floods have made over 100,000 people homeless in Nepal and caused a loss of at least NRS 15 billion to a country that is among the poorest in the world and already reeling under a massive destruction of infrastructure during its 10-year insurgency.

The 29 relief camps run in Sunsari, along the Indo-Nepal border, are also sheltering a large number of victims from India’s Bihar state, which bore the brunt of the deluge with over three million people affected.

Nepal Red Cross Society said it would feed the camp inmates, including 2,916 Indians, with assistance from the UN’s World Food Programme and Save the Children.

However, with the Sunsari administration gearing up to shift the displaced to the eastern regional prison grounds and an agriculture training centre, officials said the Indians would be asked to return to their own country.

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