India

Emergency plan saves lives during floods

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF India/2005
A relief camp for people affected by the flooding in Bihar, India. UNICEF and partners pre-positioned essential shelter, water and sanitation supplies ahead of the annual flood season.

By Anupam Srivastava

TARDI, Bihar State, India, 14 Sept 2005 – Chhanjay, Ravi Ram and Lahki Chand are children with much to be thankful for, even though they recently had to flee their village homes in boats to escape a flood. Thanks to a new emergency plan, their communities were ready to provide them and others affected by the flood with shelter, proper sanitation and clean water to keep them healthy.

The Kamala Ravan River in Bihar floods every year, driven by the monsoons. Last year’s floods, in which at least 520 people died, were called “unprecedented” by community elders – a view shared by disaster experts. After responding to the emergency, UNICEF put together a disaster-preparedness plan identifying the seven most vulnerable districts.

Supplies such as tents, halazone tablets for water purification, water tanks, and sanitary toilet equipment were pre-positioned for rapid response, and partner agencies were trained. “We wanted to make sure that through our partners we could respond to a possible crisis,” said UNICEF State Representative Bijay Rajbhandari.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF India/2005
Tents provide temporary shelter, while water purification systems and latrines help stop the spread of disease.
Planning pays off

This year’s floods have also been severe. Across Bihar, one of India’s poorest and least developed states, some 36 people have died in the flooding so far. Around 10,000 people from scores of surrounding villages have been forced off their land and are now living on a 10-km-long embankment accessible only by water.

The rains keep falling, but this time around, the villagers living in makeshift camps have tents, clean water, latrines and basic medicines – none of which they had during last year’s floods. Water storage tanks and water purification tablets help ensure a supply of potable water.

Digamber Prasad, who works with Samajik Chetna Kendra – an Indian non-governmental organization and UNICEF’s key partner in the area – said the plan has helped keep children healthy. “Shelter and clean drinking water, apart from sanitation, have ensured that there is no outbreak of water-borne diseases, which is particularly important for children.”

That is why Chhanjay, Ravi and Lakhi are still in good spirits. The children play together, and, when they feel thirsty, head for the water tank. "I know this water is good," says Chhanjay.

“Thank you,” says Ram Charit Paswan, a community elder. “It was our moment of crisis. We needed all the help in the world.”

David Koch and Eric Mullerbeck contributed to this story from New York.


 

 

Related links

Young volunteers help fight disease in flood-affected Mumbai

The following reports describe the situation in Bihar last year during the disastrous floods, which spurred the development of the emergency plan:

UNICEF video highlights flood crisis in India (Bihar, 2004)

Severe flooding in South Asia leaves children and families stranded (Bihar, 2004)

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