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Orissa, 27 September 2008 : Flood victims grapple to stay afloat in Orissa

© UNICEF/ Manipadma Jena/ 2008
Pregnant Minu Das and her 4 year old son Pintu on the embankment

UNICEF assists Government in humanitarian response

 Manipadma Jena

Orissa, 27 September 2008: No one expected the Luna River to break into the village. On the fateful day of September 23, Minu Das (20), in her seventh month of pregnancy, was taking a nap in her thatched hut on the outskirts of the Kantapaari village in Cuttack district, Orissa. At one in the afternoon, her husband Manu rushed in, racing to stay ahead of the river waters gushing at his heels. He barely had time to drag her and their four-year old son Pintu to the embankment. Even as they ran, the hungry waters swirled around them, but they somehow managed to reach the safety of the high road. 

With the black night came unrelenting sheets of rain, drenching them to their bones. Cold and hungry Pintu started to cry, but not aloud. He was terrified - the primordial forces were at their fiercest. Only at noon the next day, succor came in the form of a blue sheet of polythene, some rice and a packet of biscuits. Minu’s family is now staying under a polythene-covered makeshift tent. They have lost everything except each other and the clothes on their back.

Supported by the World Food Program (WFP), the Women and Child Department (WCD) of the Government of Orissa is providing Ready to Eat (RTE) food in the six worst affected districts of the state. Within 36 hours of a joint meeting between WCD, WFP and UNICEF, 90 Metric Tonnes of RTE was transported to these districts.

But food is at hand. Free community kitchens run by the State Government of Orissa are providing rice and lentils with vegetables. Children between six months to six years, pregnant and lactating mothers – the groups most vulnerable during emergencies – are receiving a special supplementary mix of powdered wheat, soya, dried milk and sugar fortified with micro-nutrients, distributed by Anganwadi Workers at spot-feeding centres. “The normal quantity of Ready to Eat (RTE) food is doubled to combat under-nutrition among vulnerable groups: 200 grams for children and 400 grams for women,” explains Gayatri Pradhan, the Cuttack District Social Welfare Officer.

Supported by the World Food Program (WFP), the Women and Child Department (WCD) of the Government of Orissa is providing Ready to Eat (RTE) food in the six worst affected districts of the state. Within 36 hours of a joint meeting between WCD, WFP and UNICEF, 90 Metric Tonnes of RTE was transported to these districts.

© UNICEF/ Manipadma Jena/ 2008
Children having the Ready to Eat food

As the flood waters recede, cold, fever, dysentery and sores from the exposure to flood and rain water are rampant. At Jharkota village upper-primary school, women and children from five surrounding villages crowd around Health Volunteer Nirupama Dash. Behind a fluttering banner announcing ‘Medical Relief Centre’ (MRC), Nirupama repeatedly explains to each patient the use and dosage of medicine as she hands it over. The patient count averages 200 to 300 every day since the MRC was opened on 22 September. “Till a few days ago we were reaching people by boat, distributing antibiotics, Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) and other medicines from pre-positioned stock” says Rekha Mohanty, an Anganwadi Worker.

When the flood struck, supplies pre-positioned by UNICEF were dispatched for immediate relief. The procurement and distribution of an additional 1 million ORS sachets, 1 million Halazone tablets, 100 drums of Calcium Hypochloride, 10,000 temporary shelter material and 2000 Hygiene kits, has commenced in consultation with the State Government and temporary toilets have been set up on a war footing.

In the adjoining Dhanmandal village, Bhanu Paitala, fitter-mechanic of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RWSS) has added bleaching powder to the tube well. He will return after two days to test if the water is potable and then safe-tag it with a red sticker inside and red paint on the exterior. The water will then be fit for use. As on 27 September, RWSS had disinfected 178 of the 704 tube/dug wells in the block.

“Mike announcements are made for proper use of ORS and halogen and the disinfection of dug and tube wells with bleaching powder” informs Satrughna Naik, Block Extension Educator at the Bentkar Primary Health Centre. People have also been urged not to consume stale food and to boil drinking water when possible. Illustrated leaflets on disinfecting water, prevention and treatment of diarrhea and preparing ORS have been distributed widely. Given the high risk of infection and the unhygienic living conditions, the government has taken steps to vaccinate all children between nine months to five years of age against measles to prevent an outbreak of the disease.

Emergency preparedness has helped speedy action and response to the floods, thus alleviating the suffering of the affected population. With several agencies supporting the state government, people like Minu can hope for early rehabilitation.

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