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Monsoonal Floods in India: A Situation Update

© Priyanka Khanna/ UNICEF/ 2008
Pinky Devi of Sopaul gave birth to her first child a day after her house was washed away by floods. Though Pinki is breastfeeding, she had given the baby honey immediately after birth instead of giving him her first milk.

Bihar, 26 August 2008: A sudden breach in the eastern embankment of the Kosi River in north Bihar on 18 August has resulted in the inundation of hundreds of villages in the districts of Supaul, Araria, Madehpura and Purnea.

This huge, two kilometre-long breach in the embankment has resulted in the river changing its course, flowing through areas that have not previously experienced major flooding.

For the last three to four days, the weather has been extremely hot, aggravating the suffering of the displaced population, particularly for children, pregnant and lactating women and the aged.

Overall, more than 1.4 million people from 1,081 villages in 13 districts of Bihar are affected by the flooding. In addition, more than 225,000 houses have been destroyed, leading to large scale displacement of the population. To date, 33 deaths have been reported, but this number is likely to rise.

Roads have been damaged and water and electricity supplies in the affected districts have been seriously disrupted. Railway tracks have been submerged and essential commodities, including food, are being transported by boat.

Those displaced by the flooding are not expected to be able to return to their homes for another two or three months when the embankment is repaired and the river moves back to its normal course. Until then, these people will need to stay in relief camps.

Health: Essential medicines distributed by the Government of Bihar have reached some of the more accessible relief camps and other affected populations, but there is a lack of doctors in many of these areas.

As the number of displaced continues to grow, relief camps may become overcrowded, leading to the spread of communicable diseases.

Food and Nutrition: The state government is air dropping food packets in inundated villages. In many relief camps, host populations, including youth groups, local NGOs and trade associations, are distributing both cooked food and ready to eat meals.

Water and Sanitation: In most of the relief camps, drinking water is available through hand pumps. However, additional pumps are needed because of the scale of the crisis. Some people, who are staying along river tributaries, are drinking potentially contaminated river water.

Hygiene conditions in the camps are generally very poor with an insufficient number of toilets, resulting in open defecation. Cases of fever and diarrhoea are being reported. Given the scorching heat, unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene conditions, cases may soon increase.

In collaboration with local government and NGO partners, UNICEF has provided some essential supplies, including life jackets, 400,000 halogen tablets, 25,000 kilogrammes of bleaching powder and 30,000 ORS packets. UNICEF will continue to work with its partners on the ground to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and women affected by the crisis.

UNICEF Response

UNICEF conducted a rapid assessment of the flood situation in the three worst affected districts Supaul, Araria and Madhepura, on 23 and 24 August. Two assessment teams visited relief camps and flood areas that were accessible to find out the needs of those who have been displaced and the communities hosting them. Meetings have also been conducted with block and district officials to find out how UNICEF can help.

For more information, please contact:
Angela Walker, Chief of Communication, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-1810-6093, E-mail: awalker@unicef.org

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

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

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