|© UNICEF India/2006|
|Houses are submerged in a village in Orissa State, India, one of the many states hit hard by this year’s monsoon rains.|
By Lalatendu Acharya and Kun Li
BHUBANESWAR, India, 15 August 2006 – Lying on the floor of a congested relief camp, women and children wait anxiously for the return of their loved ones. Among them is Pratima Biswal, 32, whose husband Saroj went missing while trying to escape from the raging floodwaters.
This year’s monsoon season has once again brought torrential rains to the agricultural and industrial heartland of India. As the floods swept across the state of Orissa, Ms. Biswal’s family – along with hundreds of other villagers – climbed onto the roof of a school building for safety. Her husband tried to rescue their cattle, but the floods swallowed him within minutes.
In the rest of India, turbulent rivers have washed away villages and submerged large areas of many cities – including India’s financial capital, Mumbai. Widespread damage is reported in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andra Pradesh. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and are now seeking refuge in temporary shelters.
|© UNICEF India/2006|
|A mother in India lifts her child above her shoulders as their village is submerged by monsoon floodwaters.|
Concern over disease outbreaks
In Gujarat, some 6 million people have been affected by the monsoon, and in the state’s Surat District the floods are considered the most devastating in 200 years.
In some parts of Surat city, famous for its diamonds and textiles, the monsoon has caused floods of up to 20 feet, bringing life to a grinding halt as communication and basic services are interrupted. The city’s economic losses are estimated at more than $100 million.
In Andhra Pradesh, more than 540,000 people have been evacuated to safer areas. The government has set up some 450 temporary shelters to host the displaced, but poor hygiene conditions in these crowded camps are raising grave concern over possible disease outbreaks.
According to state figures, 24 out of a total of 33 districts in Maharashtra are affected. Some 144 deaths have been reported, and 450,000 people have been evacuated. State health officials are working on emergency plans to halt any possible spread of diseases.
And the nearly constant rain in Mumbai during recent days has submerged roads and delayed trains and flights, leaving the authorities struggling to keep the city on track.
Support for women and children
Despite the evacuation and relief efforts by the government and armed forces, people reportedly remain totally cut off in some flood-affected areas; many of them are stranded on rooftops or trees with no food and water.
So far four states – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Orissa and Andra Pradesh – have requested assistance from UNICEF. Emergency supplies such as bleaching powder, chlorine tablets and oral rehydration salts are being procured and delivered to help purify water and contain disease, a major part of UNICEF’s response.
“Our priority at this moment is to assist the civil administration in restoring services for children, particularly the services relating to health, water and sanitation,” said UNICEF’s State Representative in Gujarat, Yogendra Mathur.
“We have helped formulate some 800 mobile teams who are going out to different localities, including rural areas, to check on children for illnesses. We also helped them restore water supplies, making sure the water is transported from safe water sources,” added Mr. Mathur.
In addition, UNICEF has received requests to supply blankets, tarpaulins, utensils, hygiene kits and other items to hard-hit districts in Orissa.
“UNICEF has worked hand-in-hand with the government,” said the officer-in-charge at UNICEF’s Orissa office, Olushola Ismail. “We are working together to ensure that essential support will reach the affected population – mainly the women and children – in a timely fashion.”
15 August 2006:
UNICEF State Representative in Gujarat Yogendra Mathur describes flood damage in the city of Surat and efforts to help affected children and families.