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Northeastern India Coping with Floods - 2002-07-22


Several states in northeastern India are coping with floods caused by heavy monsoon rains. But the rains have been elusive in large parts of the country, leading to fears of a drought in several regions. Heavy rains in the northeastern states Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have triggered the latest bout of flooding. Officials say at least 70 villages were submerged by Monday morning and several roads washed away.

Tens of thousands of people are sheltered in relief camps in the region, hit by floods three weeks ago. Officials say flood waters have been receding in some areas, but river levels continue to be dangerously high.

In many other parts of the country, it has been a long and anxious wait for monsoon rains. Even where rains have arrived, authorities say they are "too little, too late".

The monsoon season lasts from June to September. It brings most of the country's rain - providing vital water for crops and replenishing dams.

Forecasters say there has been a shortfall of about 25 per cent in the monsoon rains, so far. A director at the Indian Meteorological Department, HR Hatwar, says most of the impact has been felt in western, central and northern India. [The] rainfall belt was mainly confined to the east of 80 degrees longitude region, but major parts of the country - like [the] peninsula belt, western parts of the country, Gujarat, Rajasthan, including parts of UP [Uttar Pradesh] and Punjab, they were not having main rainfall activity belt," he said.

With large tracts in these states remaining parched and dry, fears are growing that much of the crops planted so far, cotton, paddy and oilseeds, could be destroyed, even if rains arrive at this late stage. Economists are expressing worries about a drop in rural incomes.

In several states, authorities have begun the task of identifying regions that will be stricken by drought, if rains do not come anytime soon.

The anxious wait for the rains is making many desperate.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekawat led special prayers Sunday in Jaipur City, to invoke help from the gods for rain. He says he organized the special ceremony at the request of the state's rural population, which has been hit hard by the monsoon's failure.

Farmers are not the only ones waiting for the skies to open up. The dry spell has aggravated shortages of power and water in many urban areas including New Delhi, leading to angry demonstrations by residents in many parts of the city.

Monday, the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party shut down several markets to protest the continuing power and water shortages. The Congress Party, which is in charge of the Delhi State Government, dismissed the protest as a "political gimmick".

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