Bank will offer $220 million for the project that will reduce flood risks

In a step to alleviate the plight of millions of people affected by the 2008 Kosi floods, the Bihar government on Wednesday signed a $220-million agreement with the World Bank.

The government will chip in with $39 million for the $259-million Bihar Kosi Flood Recovery Project aimed at supporting the State's recovery efforts, reducing risks of flooding and boosting emergency responses in the event of future disasters.

At a function here, World Bank Group president Robert B. Zoellick said the project was the first in a series of measures proposed in Bihar. The bank was likely to provide $1 billion in increased support to Bihar over the next few years. “The floods exacted a terrible toll on the people of Bihar, and two years on, despite vigorous relief efforts, many people continue to live in temporary shelters, unable to earn a living and isolated by the destruction of roads and bridges.”

The floods in the Kosi basin affected 3.3 million people across five districts of northeast Bihar. One million people were evacuated; 4.6 lakh have been living in temporary shelters since the devastation, with thousands of families losing their farmland to siltation.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the agreement was significant as “a large portion of the State's rural population remained vulnerable to floods each year.” “We are keen on building on our partnership with the World Bank, which has developed over the last five years, and welcome an expanded engagement with the Bank not only in disaster management but also in other key areas of development,” he said.

The project, comprising five key components, will help the affected families by supporting the reconstruction of 1 lakh houses through an owner-driven housing reconstruction model. Each family will get Rs.55,000 for building an earthquake and flood-resistant home, with Rs.2,300 more for a toilet and Rs.5,000 for solar-powered lighting.

Under it, communications will be restored in the affected districts through the rebuilding of 290 km of rural roads and the construction of 90 bridges and culverts on the State highways and major district roads. About 2.2 million people would benefit from improved communications in these districts, Mr. Zoellick said.

The project will also strengthen the State's flood management capacity by improving its flood forecasting apparatus and flood-erosion management. More importantly, it will help to build the social and financial capital of the affected populace by restoring and expanding livelihood opportunities.

Mr. Zoellick also complimented the government on the success of ‘Jeevika,' a project to enhance the social and economic empowerment of the rural poor. It is being implemented in six districts by the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society, an independent body set up by the State government and supported by the World Bank.

“More than financial empowerment, the model has instilled a sense of community ownership in women in districts like Gaya, which has led to an improvement in their education as well. This is vital for building social capital,” Mr. Zoellick said.

The bank, he said, was considering expanding the Jeevika self-help group model to other districts.

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