GAUR, Nepal — The monsoon rains would not stop. They lashed Nepal’s border with India, pooling into a swift current that crumbled homes, cut electricity and swept away people and animals.
But this summer’s flash floods played out differently on the Indian side. Embankments blocked swollen upstream rivers from emptying south, leaving Nepal to deal with two or three times more flooding than India in some areas, according to local officials.
Now, India has become a chief target of anger and bitterness in Nepal as border communities take stock of losses from the floods.
In recent decades, India has tried to protect low-lying areas by building hilly buffers stretching hundreds of miles along a porous border. During the rainy season, which lasts from June to September, Nepal’s Himalaya-fed rivers can overflow and rush toward India with enough force to wipe out entire villages.
But the embankments have come under increasing scrutiny. Nepali officials say they have little control over many of these projects and that India — its bigger and richer neighbor — has been constructing them unilaterally for years, violating international guidelines on transboundary water sharing. The embankments are built largely near Indian border towns or in the buffer zone between the countries.
During July’s floods, which ranked among the worst in years, Nepali officials said India had kept some of the embankments’ sluice gates closed for too long, despite requests to open them. They said Nepal has little say over when the drains are opened and that water pooled near Gaur and other border towns, causing deaths and destruction.
Trapped on his roof in Nepal, Shiva Mangal Raut tried swimming to a grocery store to restock on food. Hours later, he was found dead in a paddy field near the town of Gaur, one of at least 20 people who died in the district during the July flooding.
“The embankments killed him,” said his father, Ranga Lal Raut.
In an interview, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Nepal’s foreign minister, said officials from India and Nepal released a joint report in August concluding that inundation, which affects both countries, was linked to India’s embankments and inadequate drains.
“We are concerned about the deaths of our people living in border areas,” Mr. Gyawali said.
Indian officials said that the embankments were covered under previous agreements between the countries, and that they also brought benefits to Nepal’s people. Farmers on either side of the border rely on soil saturation during the monsoon to irrigate crops in the region, which is bone-dry for much of the year.
Arvind Kumar Singh, a spokesman in India for Bihar State’s Water Resources Department, which manages the embankments, said in a written statement that India and Nepal had agreed on terms for their construction, including the main embankment near Gaur.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
Climate change is likely to make flooding worse in South Asia, home to more than a fifth of the world’s population.
Flood prone areas in Bihar have increased about threefold since the 1950s. Scientists predict that at least one-third of the Himalayas, which extend through Nepal, will melt by 2100. In nearby Bangladesh, with its marshy, low-lying wetlands, rising seas may push millions of climate refugees into India.
Eugene Simonov, a Russian conservationist with Rivers Without Boundaries, an organization that works to preserve transboundary river basins, said the embankments were not sustainable.
He said India and Nepal faced difficult futures if they did not devise environmentally friendly solutions tried in places like Germany, where towns along the Rhine are adapting buildings to floods.
“You cannot divide yourself from nature with a wall,” Mr. Simonov said. “Do you want to lock your population in an inherently suboptimal way of flood adaptation, which is going to fail one day, and at the same time endanger your neighbors?”
India has constructed about 2,400 miles of embankments in Bihar, a border state with some 100 million people, or four times Nepal’s population. Dams have also been built to harness several thousand rivers in Nepal that help fill water bodies in India like the Ganges.
Anger over the embankments occasionally bursts into public view. In 2016, fights broke out when India tried to build a levee in a buffer zone near the Nepali district of Saptari.
Dev Narayan Yadav, one of hundreds of Nepalis who blocked construction, said he was beaten during the clashes, when protesters hurled stones and at least a dozen people were injured. Later, he said, Indian officials briefly jailed him and his son for instigating violence.
“It was purely a personal vendetta against me for taking a tough stance,” he said.
Apart from tricky diplomacy, water experts questioned the safety of the embankments.
Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra, an Indian engineer who works on water issues in Bihar, said the buffers block rivers from naturally spreading sediment. Buildup of soil near these structures means engineers must regularly raise their heights or risk breaches.
“The rising bed of a river might come on par with the countryside, so that it is virtually flowing over ground,” he said. “Such a river can never remain stable.”
In Gaur, with its shimmering rice fields and modest brick homes, many people said they were furious at how things played out when the flooding started on July 11.
As water levels rose to around 10 feet, rescue workers in rubber boats motored through the wreckage to reach people trapped on their roofs. Many took shelter in schools and government complexes.
Kiran Thapa, the chief officer for the district of Rautahat, which includes Gaur, said he repeatedly called the district magistrate in India to open sluice gates to drain some of the water.
“I was so panicked,” he said.
But Mr. Thapa said the official in India did not return his calls, and that only two sluice gates were opened after the worst of the flooding.
The Indian district magistrate did not respond to requests for comment.
Bhupendra Khatri, the police chief for Rautahat, said at least 20 people died in the district, including two in Gaur, which sits near a customs crossing. Six miles south, there were no reported deaths in the adjacent Indian town of Bairgania, which is about the same size.
People in Gaur said they were facing different problems now. In recent weeks, most homes were rebuilt, but a drought has made it difficult for farmers to regrow the crops they lost.
Ranga Lal Raut, 57, whose son, a mason, had drowned on July 13, said he was living through a nightmare.
The flooding destroyed his family’s farm plot. His son’s five young daughters no longer have a father. He dreaded next year, when the monsoon returns and brings more peril.
When there were no embankments, Mr. Raut said, water used to flow freely, “without causing any harm or destruction to us.”
“Dismantle them,” he said. “We’re not safe.”
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