Displaced people arriving by boat to Sursar rescue point, District- Araria, Bihar, India, 29 August 2008.
But much more needs to be done quickly
Bihar, 01 September 2008: You have seen it on television and read about it in newspapers. The floods in Bihar have caused havoc as has never been seen in the state for the past 50 years - it is an unprecedented emergency. Just three days after India’s 61st Independence Day, a breach in the eastern embankment of the Kosi river has left lakhs of people homeless. Children and pregnant and lactating women are the worst sufferers and absence of proper shelter is making their lives more difficult, with continued hot weather conditions further adding to their woes.
The situation is grim, but some relief has already reached the worst affected areas. The contributions from individual donors, who had donated to UNICEF for such emergencies, have been a major help.
Road linkages and the supply of water and electricity in the affected districts has been totally cut off. Railway tracks at several places have been submerged under deep water, and the hardships do not end there. There is shortage of food, doctors and medicine. Due to overcrowding in relief camps, the possibility of spread of communicable diseases is a looming threat. People staying along river tributaries are drinking potentially contaminated river water. Although drinking water is available through hand pumps in most of the relief camps, there is an urgency to install more pumps to cater to the scale of the crisis.
Relief camp at Bathnaha High School, Block-Forbisganj, District- Araria, Bihar, India, 29 August 2008
With funds received from individual donors, UNICEF has sent pre-procured tarpaulin sheets to make temporary shelters in some of the worst affected areas. In addition, jerry cans for storing drinking water and kits containing soap and other hygiene material have been supplied to the affected people. The prompt supply of water purification tablets and bleaching powder is helping to make water potable. Thirty thousand packets of Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) are preventing deaths due to diarrheal dehydration, especially amongst children.
But much more needs to be done. Thirteen districts have been badly hit and people displaced by the floods are not expected to return to their homes for another two to three months until the embankment is repaired and the river moves back to its normal course. Till then, these people will need to stay in relief camps where there are insufficient toilets resulting in open defecation and cases of fever and diarrhea being regularly reported. Given the scorching heat, unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene conditions, these cases are expected to increase.
Much of the relief and rehabilitation will need the continued generosity of the donor community. Together we will work to ensure that not only are precious lives saved but also brought back to normalcy.