Millions affected by floods in Bangladesh face ‘a desperate situation’
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 7 August 2007 – This year’s monsoon rains have caused unprecedented human suffering in Bangladesh. More than half of the country’s 64 districts are severely affected. Vast areas of land and crops are submerged, and millions of people have been left homeless.
For children and families living in camps and still stranded by the floods, the threat of disease and hunger looms.
“As of yesterday, the number of diarrhoea cases has gone well above 500, far exceeding what we had anticipated,” said UNICEF Bangladesh’s Chief of Health, Dr. Iyorlumun Uhaa. “Most of the cases are among children under five years of age, and we can estimate reasonably that there are many more cases taking place in locations that cannot be reached.”
The good news is that Bangladesh produces oral rehydration salts (ORS), which are used to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, added Dr. Uhaa. ORS are “commonly available in health facilities” at the district and sub-district levels, he said.
The government has mobilized more than 700,000 mobile health teams, as well as its armed forces, which are using boats to reach people in need.
8 million displaced
Twenty-six rivers, especially in and around the capital, Dhaka, are flowing above danger levels. Parts of eastern Dhaka are also being inundated. Some 1.2 million acres of cropland have been damaged.
Government figures show that a total of about 8 million people have been displaced. In the past 12 days, 120 deaths have been reported.
“With the heavy monsoon rains and also some of the waters coming from the Assam rivers in India, emptying into the Jamuna River in Bangladesh, the situation here has been really, really bad,” noted Dr. Uhaa.
The government has established more than 1,200 shelters – including many school buildings and health facilities – to accommodate the displaced. But much more aid is needed.
Some survivors are still clinging to whatever belongings they could save in the floods. “It’s an especially desperate situation for women, children and the elderly,” said Dr. Uhaa.
Crisis response under way
UN agencies on the ground, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), are well coordinated to help the government respond to the crisis. Using pre-positioned supplies, for example, UNICEF has sent 15 million water purification tablets to affected areas.
“We have also dispatched some 400,000 sachets of saline, and essential drugs worth more than $300,000,” said Dr. Uhaa. “We pre-positioned 90 metric tonnes of BP5, a high-energy biscuit, and in collaboration with WFP and through NGOs, they are now reaching children and pregnant women.”
In addition, UNICEF is providing temporary shelter materials such as plastic sheeting, and family kits with essential supplies for daily survival, noted Dr. Uhaa. “We estimate that 1.7 million people can be covered,” he said.
Moreover, at least 3 of the 10 mobile water treatment plants purchased and pre-positioned by UNICEF Bangladesh have been mobilized in Sirajganj, one of the worst-hit districts.
UNICEF is now in discussions with the government and NGOs about distributing 480 education kits and 5,300 recreation kits to provide schooling and psychosocial support to thousands of displaced children.