Nepal floods: Blame from India, aid from US (Lead)

August 20th, 2008 - 10:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 20 (IANS) The US government, whose watch list of terrorist organisations still includes Nepal’s Maoists, Wednesday became the first member of the international community to pledge aid for the tens of thousands of people displaced by a ravaging flood in south Nepal while Kathmandu’s neighbour India angered the new Maoist prime minister by blaming Nepal for the disaster.In response to a request from the American ambassador to Nepal, Nancy J. Powell, USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance authorised the immediate release of $50,000 to provide emergency relief supplies.

Save the Children, in partnership with the Nepal Red Cross, will use the disaster assistance money for local purchase and transport of relief supplies, a statement by the American Embassy in Nepal said. It added that the US is prepared to provide additional assistance, if needed.

The aid announcement came even as Nepal’s new prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who Wednesday flew to Sunsari district near the Indo-Nepal border to inspect relief and rescue measures, said he would approach the international community for a long-term solution to the Koshi barrage problem.

Stung by a statement by the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu that blamed Nepal for the flood caused by a breaching of the barrage on the Saptakoshi river, Prachanda said it would have to be studied how much of the disaster was due to lapses on the part of Nepal and how much on the part of India.

He said bilateral talks would have to be held with India to address the issue.

The Maoist supremo also called the 1954 Koshi treaty between India and Nepal, which authorised India to build the barrage to control floods and generate hydropower, a “historic blunder”.

The reaction came after the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu issued a statement, saying though an Indian team had rushed to the affected Sunsari district prior to the floods, it was prevented from reaching the site.

“The concerns of the Indian technical team and the gravity of the situation were conveyed by the embassy to the local administration and central authorities and their cooperation and support was sought,” the Indian Embassy statement said.

“The Indian technical team mobilised required resources and has remained in readiness to carry out the required work to strengthen the embankment. But it was prevented from reaching the site.

“As a consequence, thousands of people in Nepal and India have been forced to suffer a calamity that could have been avoided.”

Incessant rain since last week caused two spurs supporting the Koshi barrage to collapse and triggered massive inundation in Sunsari as well as Bihar.

As Nepal’s local administration and the army pressed helicopters, boats and even elephants into rescue operations, over 50,000 had become homeless, and thousands marooned by swirling waters.

People awaited rescue atop trees, and grim farmers waded through shoulder-deep water with children and goats strapped to their backs searching for safe areas.

An Indian delegation visiting Nepal said Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar has expressed his desire to visit the Himalayan republic and discuss water-related issues with Prachanda.

Sharad Yadav, leader of India’s Janata Dal (U) party and president of the Indo-Nepal Friendship Forum, also said both countries needed to sit together to find a permanent solution to the havoc caused by the Saptakoshi river every year.

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