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Surviving the fury of the floods

© UNICEF 2009
Sutralinga with her newborn baby girl Jelam at the primary health center in the flood affected district in Andhra Pradesh

By Dr Jorge Caravotta

Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka,  26 October – Nine months pregnant Sutralinga was fast asleep when she was woken by the screams of her harried neighbours.

“Run for your lives. Water is gushing down the village at a fast speed,” the screams kept getting louder.

Sutralinga who had just come to her mother’s home to deliver her baby clutched her stomach and ran for her life,

“I ran and so did my mother, grandmother and my younger siblings. We kept running – without our belongings and without any direction.”

“We were just trying to find a place where we could be safe from the fury of the floods” says Sutralinga, recalling the events of that fateful night.

Sutralinga’s family lost their house and all their belongings that night. Though Sutralinga consoles herself that the floods did not snatch any of her loved ones.

However, not all the people in Sutralinga’s neighbourhood were fortunate. One of the worst floods in decades that hit the southern Indian states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh killed about 300 people, of whom two hundred in Karnataka and another 73 in Andhra Pradesh. An estimated three million people have been affected by the floods in the state.

Heavy rains during the period from 29 September through 2 October, along with a discharge of water from three dams across the major rivers in Karnataka, caused these floods in 15 northern districts of Karnataka state and in five districts in Rayalseema region of Andhra Pradesh state.

In Karnataka, over 500,000 houses were damaged and one million hectares of crop land affected. In Andhra Pradesh the damage was even more extensive with over 1.7 million houses getting damaged.

In early days of floods, nearly 900,000 people were temporarily displaced and accommodated in 1,876 relief camps in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Silver lining in dark clouds of despair

While nature continued to wreak havoc in the two states, Sutralinga and her family managed to reach a
primary health center in the neighbouring Gandhra village, after crossing five kilometres of difficult terrain.

At the health centre, Sutralinga was helped by a lady doctor to deliver her baby in the early hours of morning.

“It is a miracle. Her name is Jelam. It means water,” she says adding that it is an apt name for a baby who has survived the fury of the floods.

The primary health centre where Sutralinga is currently staying is also doubling as a makeshift disaster shelter and provides women like Sutralinga with medical care, security and shelter.

The centre is playing a major role in not only supporting and managing the deliveries of the women in their crucial period but also rendering psychological support to them and their families in these trying times.

Before the disaster struck the centre conducted around 20 deliveries every month. This has risen to 40 deliveries.

“We are trying our best to give that shelter to all pregnant women” says Hemlata, a ANM in the health centre, adding the increasing burden on the centre was proving to be difficult to handle.

 “At a time when people have lost all their belongings, mother-kit is truly a blessing,” adds Sutralinga as her 60 year old grandmother nods in agreement.

“We feel safe here at the center. I cook here” says the grandmother as she points to the chulha (open fire) placed in the corner of the dimly lit health centre.

Though she kept answering questions about her daughter and other mothers in health centre, her mind kept wandering to the disaster that had struck her family,

 “My daughter is trying to salvage whatever she can, but I don’t know where we will go from here. I live for the day, not knowing if God will provide any support for my family tomorrow” the old mother adds.

UNICEF is reaching out to the affected and vulnerable population

From the onset of the crisis, UNICEF has been working closely with the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, local authorities and NGO counterparts to ensure an appropriate and effective response strategy. 

UNICEF’s response focuses on vulnerable women and children in three of the worst affected districts: Mahbubnagar and Kurnool districts in Andhra Pradesh and Raichur district in Karnataka.

Water and sanitation specialists have been stationed in the three districts to provide technical, logistical and monitoring support to the district administration. UNICEF is also supporting local administrations in clearing up pockets of stagnated water to reduce the risk of malaria, dengue and chikungunya.

For those living in temporary shelters, UNICEF has pledged its support to the Government in setting up alternative learning centers for children and in ensuring water safety as well as promoting health and hygiene.

This support includes the provision of water purification tablets, jerry cans to store fresh water and bleaching powder as well as communication materials promoting safe hygiene practices and precautions to be taken during flood emergencies.

 

 

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