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Monsoonal Floods in India: A Situation Update

Bihar, 19 September 2008: The major humanitarian crisis in Bihar continues with poor environmental conditions in flood affected areas now posing a serious risk of disease outbreaks.

The number of people affected by the crisis has risen to 4.39 million and 319,569 houses have been damaged. There are 359 official relief camps functioning in Bihar, sheltering some 353,991 displaced people. Tens of thousands of people are reported to be displaced but not residing in relief camps.

More than 290,000 hectares of Bihar’s agricultural land has been washed away by the floods. This is expected to have a serious impact on the winter crop, putting many livelihoods at risk in the coming months.

In the five worst affected districts of Supaul, Madhepura, Purnea, Saharsa and Araria, a total of 3.02 million people have been severely affected by the flooding after an embankment burst on the Kosi River last month. Approximately 750,000 of those displaced are children under nine.

A disease surveillance system, set up by the Government of Bihar with the support of UNICEF, has logged an estimated 288,858 cases that have been treated since relief efforts began. Of these, there have been 71,943 cases of fever and 14,842 cases of diarrhoea.

A rapid assessment of the situation of schools in the five worst affected districts has reported that about 159 out of 7,480 schools have been destroyed. Another 716 have been seriously damaged, 1,624 have suffered minor damage and 62 are being used as camps by displaced people.
To date this year, 2,182 people have been killed due to flooding in the country and 21 million people have been affected. More than 1.1 million houses have been damaged, mainly in Bihar and in West Bengal. The monsoon season is expected to continue until the end of October, and these figures are likely to rise.

Heavy rainfall has been reported in parts of Orissa and West Bengal in the last two days and more rain is predicted. Floods are expected if the water levels of the river Mahanadi in Orissa rise in the coming days.

Government Response

The Government of Bihar is now running large-scale relief camps in a number of locations across the state. They are designed to be semi-permanent as people may need to stay in these camps for six months or more. In addition to shelter, the Government plans to provide water, sanitation facilities, healthcare and childcare services in all camps.

The Government of Bihar, in partnership with UNICEF, the Indian Red Cross and NGOs, including Save the Children and Jeevika, have launched an initiative that assists communities in creating a supportive and protective environment for flood victims, particularly the most vulnerable children and women. The initiative is entitled ‘Sambal’ and will initially focus on the reunification of separated families and the prevention and monitoring of trafficking.

The Government of Bihar aims to open Alternative Learning Spaces (ALSs) in all the camps. Games and other activities for children will be organized to normalise the environment and to help survivors overcome the psychological impact of the disaster. These initiatives also provide a protective environment for children who are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and child labour. Locations for Alternative Learning Spaces have been identified in 174 camps in 5 districts. With UNICEF support, 98 Alternative
Learning Spaces have already opened in 5 districts. These ALSs now provide schooling for 33,745 children.

One hundred seventy-seven medical teams have been deployed and 409 health centres have been opened in the flood affected areas of the State. The health department has undertaken a massive vaccination drive against contagious viral diseases in the districts of Supaul, Madhepura, Katihar, Araria, Purnea, Bhagalpur and Saharsa.

UNICEF Response

UNICEF’s humanitarian assistance targets around 125,000 people in 32 camps in the five worst affected districts. These camp-based interventions focus primarily on health, nutrition, water and sanitation. Education, child protection and communication initiatives are also underway.

UNICEF is working closely with the Government, sister UN agencies, NGOs and other partners to ensure minimal duplication and maximum coordination in the delivery of relief to the flood victims.

Health:

UNICEF has supported the setting up of a comprehensive disease surveillance and containment plan in eight districts. The system aims to provide early detection of diseases and prevention of outbreaks in these districts.

UNICEF is working closely with the Government to provide essential maternal health services to the displaced populations. UNICEF is supplying tents containing basic midwifery kits. Ten such maternity centres have already been established and 63 women have given birth in these centres to date.

The Government of Bihar has appointed one Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker for every 3,000 people in all government camps. UNICEF is supporting this initiative by providing training, teaching materials and ASHA kits.

Nutrition:

A nutrition assessment of 16,715 children has been completed in 4 districts. A total of 617 (3.69 percent) children were identified as being severely and acutely malnourished (SAM). UNICEF is also conducting diet surveys to assess the quality of food and food intake of pregnant and lactating women as well as pre-school children of 1-3 years and 3-5 years.

Recommendations for improving child nutrition in the camps will be given to district administrations upon completion.

Water and Sanitation:

UNICEF is working to ensure adequate water quality in flood affected communities through the disinfection of drinking water, chlorination of hand pumps, provision of water tanks and more. More than 400 hand pumps have been chlorinated to date and 250 water tanks have been sent to the affected districts.

A water quality surveillance system has been established in 32 camps and chlorine levels of all the hand pumps are being regularly tested by trained volunteers.

Three thousand five hundred families have received buckets and 700 families in the relief camps have received hygiene kits. More than 1.4 million water purification tablets have been supplied to government agencies and NGOs in the affected districts so far while trained volunteers of UNICEF partner NGOs have distributed more than 100,000 tablets in the relief camps.

UNICEF and its Partners:

UNICEF's effective response to this emergency has been made possible through the generous support of our partners. Funds donated to UNICEF for the emergency relief effort in India enable us to reach out to the most vulnerable women and children in the flood affected areas with life-saving interventions in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, as well as crucial child protection and education initiatives.

UNICEF is particularly grateful to DFID for its commitment of $ 2.1 million to support the relief effort and to the Australian Government for its commitment of $ 400,000.

For more information, please contact:

Angela Walker, Chief of Communication, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-181-06093, E-mail: awalker@unicef.org

Geetanjali Master, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-181-05861, E-mail: gmaster@unicef.org

Alistair Gretarsson, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-715-35586, E-mail: agretarsson@unicef.org

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