|© UNICEF Nepal/2008|
|Supplies are being brought in by raft to flood-affected villagers in Nepal.|
By Rupa Joshi
SUNSARI, Nepal, 26 August – Last week, the Saptakoshi River breached its banks and waters swept through half a dozen villages. Now, there are thousands of people, mainly women and children, packed in over two dozen schools and other temporary shelters in Inaruwa, the district headquarters of Sunsari.
Some people are still camped in or atop their homes, others are staying under makeshift tents along the remaining embankment.
"Two of the spurs on the eastern embankment of the river gave way to the monsoon frenzy, and a branch of the Saptakoshi started making its way through the relatively low-lying villages," says UNICEF Nepal Project Officer Dovan Lawoti. "Some had fled to higher ground … but many were caught unprepared."
Villagers braved the rising waters to come to the temporary shelters in various schools, madrassas and government buildings. Any livestock that families managed to save are tethered in corridors or are grazing in the schoolyard.
Number of displaced could rise
According to government estimates, about 55,000 people have been displaced by the floods. Experts fear that the number of displaced could rise if the rain-fed river continues to erode the embankment.
|© UNICEF Nepal/2008|
|Flood-affected villagers in a makeshift shelter along the embankment in Madhuban village.|
The District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) of Sunsari has been coordinating relief efforts with all development partners, including UNICEF.
UNICEF has conducted rapid assessments regarding water and sanitation facilities in the temporary shelters, as well as the nutrition, education and protection needs of displaced families.
Relief efforts hampered
"We responded to the crisis immediately by releasing our pre-positioned stock of non-food items for about 2,000 families in Sunsari and Saptari," says UNICEF Nepal Chief Field Officer Sunita Kayastha. "These included blankets, water buckets, plastic tarps, hygiene kits as well as first aid kits and Aquatabs and other water purification solutions."
In collaboration with the district water and sanitation partners, UNICEF will also provide hygiene materials and will begin constructing hand pumps, pit latrines and garbage pits, as well as separate bathing spaces for women and adolescents in the shelters.
However, relief and evacuation efforts are being hampered as large portions of the main highway have been washed away. It is the only east-to-west artery in the country. Meanwhile, relief efforts in many areas are relying on boats, helicopters and even elephants.