Mahila Samakhya volunteer distributing Khichdi to flood affected children in Bihar
By Gurinder Gulati
Muzaffarpur, Bihar, 22 August 2007: Within minutes of Neelam Devi and her team arriving in Dronpur, a large number of women and children rushed, wading through waist-deep flood waters, to line up in a queue to receive the delicious “Khichdi” (a rice and lentil gruel) prepared by them, as part of the supplementary nutrition camp started by UNICEF to address the nutritional requirements of pregnant and lactating women and young children.
“We are very thankful to UNICEF for arranging this food, so very crucial for the survival of our children in this difficult hour”, said Sadiq Raza Rizvi, one of the community leaders of the village, who also lent his hand in the smooth distribution of the foodstuff.
“All our belongings - home, food and live stock - have been washed away by the floods. Whatever little we had salvaged is also finished. For the last two days, we were living on one meal a day only. This supplementary nutrition camp has come as a life saving act for our women and children, who are the most vulnerable during an emergency like floods”, said Ruby Devi, a pregnant woman from Dronpur village. On receiving the food, it was touching to see the look of relief on the faces of worried parents, who were otherwise at their wits end to arrange food for their children in the extreme conditions.
In Muzaffarpur, one of the worst affected districts in the recent floods, a discussion took place with the District Magistrate on the urgent nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating women and children by immediately starting some temporary supplementary nutrition camps. He advised that UNICEF join hands with Mahila Samakhya, a Government Society with a large network of 923 Self Help Groups in 159 villages with a membership of more than 20,000 enthusiastic women. They could cook the food in one central location and have it transported to different villages and hamlets with the help of cycle rickshaws, tractors or even boats where road connections were still under water.
A mother and a child going through flood waters after receiving food at a UNICEF supported supplementary nutrition camp
“It was not easy to start these camps, with the entire population, including adults, old and young all affected by the crisis. It required sensitive negotiation skills for the UNICEF team and the Mahila Samakhya workers to convince community leaders that it was the women and children, who were the most vulnerable and therefore, needed to be given top priority”, said Poonam Devi, the District Programme Officer of Mahila Samakhya. After listening to this plea, everybody readily agreed and assured their full cooperation in ensuring smooth distribution of the food to the women and children.
Approximately, 22,000 children and 5,000 pregnant and lactating mothers are being covered by these camps, which will continue to function till the water will recede and people move back to their houses.
Millions of people, including women and children have been rendered homeless by the unprecedented floods in Bihar this year. It is more than a month now that as many as 20 districts continue to reel under heavy floods. A large number of villages remain inaccessible as most of the roads have been breached.
The Government of Bihar is doing its best by rushing emergency relief materials, including air dropping of food packets. However, it has not been possible to reach each and every village. Therefore, a dialogue is going on with Mahila Samakhya to expand this initiative of Temporary Supplementary Nutrition Camps to other districts as well”, says Bijaya Rajbhandari, UNICEF State Representative.