KOLKATA, India, 4 June 2009 – One hundred and twenty-five people have died and an estimated 6.2 million people have been affected following the havoc caused by cyclone Aila.
The cyclone, which hit the state on May 25, was accompanied by heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides. The devastation has affected 18 out of 19 districts in the state with South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Darjeeling, East Medinipur and West Medinipur among the worst affected districts. In Sunderbans delta, famous for its forests and tigers, 14 of the delta’s 37 Islands remain inaccessible for humanitarian and relief efforts.
The situation is precarious in the two densely populated south-eastern districts of South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas (over 1,400 persons per square kilometer),with some of the populace living in extremely vulnerable locations along the delta/river embankments and on river islands.
The West Bengal state government, Indian National Disaster Response Force and other partners have launched search and rescue operations. The state government has been coping with an ever increasing number of affected populations. Distribution of relief aid is ongoing, but with immense logistical difficulties in the cut off villages of the Sundarbans area.
The state government has set up 765 relief camps in South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, and Darjeeling, hosting 377,000 people. About 380,000 tarpaulins along with water pouches and packets of dry foods have been distributed to the displaced.
The situation is expected to worsen with the Meteorological Department forecasting an early monsoon for the state.
UNICEF with its partners Ramakrishna Mission Lokshiksha Parishad and 12 cluster organisations is moving in pre-positioned emergency supplies to 10,000 affected families, including water jerry cans, water purification tablets, family hygiene kits and packets of oral rehydration salt (ORS).
Earlier this week, a prelimnary Rapid Assessment Team from UNICEF's West Bengal office, visited the Gosaba islands by boat and met many affected women and children. Reaching out to these inaccessible villages remains a challenge and safe drinking water, food and shelter are urgently needed.
A multi-sectoral rapid assessment mission will be conducted from Thursday through June 6 in the most affected areas. UNICEF will be focusing its key interventions on the three most affected blocks of Sandeshkali 1, Sandeshkali 2 (North 24 Parganas) and Gosaba (South 24 Parganas).
UNICEF has initiated the purchase of additional quantities of 18 MT bleaching powder, 600 bottles of Halozone Tabs (4mg each), and 100,000 jerry cans (10 liters each) to meet urgent drinking water needs.
A photo-essay is online on 'India water portal'
Similar photo essay will be posted on UNICEF India website.
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Angela Walker, Chief of Communication, UNICEF India
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