|With heavy monsoon rains continuing, children make their way through floodwaters in Bhakatpur, in the northern Indian state of Assam.|
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 6 August 2007 – For the past two weeks, South Asia has seen some of the worst monsoon flooding in living memory. Across northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal, villages have been completely marooned, leaving tens of millions displaced and stranded.
In India, some 12 million people have been affected in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two of the worst-hit states. Hundreds of thousands are camped out on elevated highways, railway tracks and embankments.
Safe water, food and medicines are among the items most needed to help children and families cope. Government forces are now using helicopters to drop relief supplies, but they can only meet the needs of a fraction of the displaced population.
Threats of hunger and disease
“The torrential rains were 20 times heavier than ever,” said UNICEF India Chief of Health Marzio Babille, who is currently in Bihar to coordinates the agency’s relief efforts. “Many of the communities usually dealt with floods, but with the unprecedented amount of rains, their coping mechanisms were completely overwhelmed,” he added.
The Indian Government says more than 1,100 people have died in this year's monsoon rains, not including the latest casualties.
|A boy pushes his bicycle through a flooded street after heavy rains in the northern Indian city of Mathura.|
“I have been dividing one small piece of bread among four of my children, and I have been starving and yet somehow surviving,” said one sobbing mother to a local television reporter in Bihar.
In Uttar Pradesh, more than 180 relief camps and 155 temporary shelters have been set up for 150,000 displaced people, over 30,000 of whom are children. In the eastern Indian state of Assam, where up to 3 million people took refuge in emergency camps or were cut off in their villages, receding waters and soaring temperatures have led to concern about potential disease outbreaks.
Supplies, medical teams and volunteers
At the outset of the crisis, UNICEF distributed pre-positioned emergency supplies to more than 40,000 families in some 1,000 villages in Bihar. Included were 5,000 plastic sheets, 130,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts (ORS, used to treat diarrhoeal dehydration) and thousands of water-purification tablets.
“We need at this moment at least 1 million more sachets of ORS, not only to take care of the diarrhoeal cases, which are expected to rise, but also to prevent future disease outbreaks,” said Mr. Babille. Previous experience has shown that a lack of ORS can have grave consequences if waterborne diseases do break out, he noted.
Working with the government and other partners, UNICEF is also mobilizing 10,000 community volunteers across the affected districts to provide health surveillance and early detection of infectious diseases among children.
Meanwhile, about 50 medical teams have been deployed to provide essential treatment and conduct a mass immunization drive in India’s flood-affected districts. During the drive, an estimated 400,000 children are to receive protection against measles, along with vitamin A supplements to boost their immunity.
6 August 2007:
UNICEF India Chief of Health Marzio Babille talks about relief efforts in Bihar, one of the Indian states worst-affected by recent floods.