|© UNICEF/2008/ Khanna|
|Pinky Devi of Sopaul in Bihar, India, gave birth to her first child a day after her house was washed away by the floods from the Kosi River.|
BIHAR, India, 27 August 2008 – A two-kilometre breach in the eastern embankment of the Kosi River in Bihar last week has resulted in the inundation of hundreds of villages, including areas that have not previously experienced major flooding.
To date, 33 deaths have been reported, but this number is likely to rise.
"With over 200,000 homes destroyed and at least 1.4 million people affected, the flooding in Bihar is a serious emergency," said UNICEF Emergencies Communication Officer Patrick McCormick.
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.
The flooding of this transboundary river has also displaced approximately 55,000 people in Nepal.
Displaced from their homes
Those displaced by the flooding in Bihar 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. As the number of displaced continues to grow, relief camps may become overcrowded, leading to the spread of communicable diseases.
In addition, the weather has been extremely hot, aggravating the suffering of the displaced population, particularly for children and pregnant women.
"Children in these situations are especially vulnerable. They are most at risk from disease and suffer physical and mental distress from being moved from their homes houses to relief camps," said Mr. McCormick.
Last week, UNICEF conducted a rapid assessment of the situation in the three worst-affected districts.
In collaboration with local government and other partners, UNICEF has provided some essential supplies and 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.
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. The state government is air-dropping food packets in inundated villages. In many relief camps, local organizations are also distributing food.
Water and sanitation needs
In most of the relief camps, drinking water is available through hand pumps. However, additional pumps are needed. 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.
"UNICEF focuses its response on delivering life-saving supplies like medicines, drinking water and sanitation equipment to ward off the threat of disease amongst the affected children," noted Mr. McCormick.