Millions of people across South Asia affected by monsoonal flooding
NEW DELHI, 3 August 2007 – UNICEF today highlighted the crisis developing across South Asia as monsoonal rains continue to pound northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh, creating havoc and chaos with heavier rains forecast in upcoming days. Some 20 million people are believed to be affected in all three countries in what is being described as the worst flooding in living memory.
Unknown numbers of people are either stranded or have been displaced and lack any form of shelter. Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes, possessions, livestock and fields and will have to begin their lives from scratch when flood waters recede.
Access to the worst affected areas is a major concern as vast swathes of land are completely submerged and rising waters continue cutting off more villages and communities. Landslides have been reported in the highlands of Nepal, posing an additional threat for communities already suffering from the monsoonal deluge.
The sheer size and scale of the flooding and the massive numbers of people affected poses an unprecedented challenge to the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian assistance by governments, and the aid community at large across the region.
Shelter and access to fresh water, food, emergency medical supplies and basic household items are urgently required given the loss of infrastructure, including basic health units and hospitals.
Major threats include starvation, waterborne diseases and skin infections due to the lack of food, clean water and any form of sanitation. Many water supply systems have been either damaged or no longer exist.
UNICEF is particularly concerned about the situation of women and especially children and adolescents who make up 40 per cent of South Asia’s population. They are especially vulnerable to dehydration, exposure and diarrhoea.
This follows on from the devastating flooding in Pakistan caused when Cyclone Yemyin struck Balochistan and Sindh in late June affecting some 2 million people.
The five worst affected districts are Sirajganj, Kurigram, Jamalpur, Bogra and Tangail as well as Netrokona, Gaibandha and Nilphamary which have also been hit hard. The nation’s capital Dhaka has only been partially affected though there are fears that the eastern side of the capital could be inundated in the next few days as waters make their way towards the lowlands.
As of 1 August there were 881 cases of diarrhoea and 65 cases of acute respiratory infection reported through the Ministry of Health, and eight deaths from drowning.
So far, about 1,022 primary schools in Dhaka division and 2,353 schools elsewhere have been shut. Another 10 schools in these two divisions were completely destroyed due to river erosion.
An Emergency Monitoring and Coordination Cell established under the office of the Chief Advisor of the present Caretaker Government has deployed 601 medical teams to assist flood affected people – though it had not declared an emergency as of 1 August).
At the request of the Ministry of Health, UNICEF is providing essential drugs, oral rehydration salts (ORS) and 15.77 million water purification tablets. UNICEF is also making available propositioned essential items including BP-5 nutritious biscuits, plastic sheets, family and educational kits.
The flood situation in the two northern Indian states – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh – has worsened in recent days. These states, the most densely populated in the country, both count large numbers of poor and vulnerable people with limited capacity to respond.
According to government estimates, the number of deaths stands at 1,103 in 138 affected districts. More than 112,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed, with more expected as the situation unfolds.
Safe drinking water is in short supply with most tube-wells submerged and many affected people reportedly using flood water for drinking purposes.
The flood situation in Bihar (pop. 83 million) is becoming grimmer by the day. Government of Bihar reports 7 million people in 14 districts are badly affected by floods.
In Uttar Pradesh (pop. 166 million), more than 5,000 schools have been affected, with classes suspended. Some schools are being used for shelter. School buildings will require major repair after the floods. The Government, so far, has undertaken rescue operations with the help of police and relief materials have started reaching people, however the needs are immense.
Twenty-five of Assam’s 27 districts have been inundated, affecting an estimated 5.5 million people. So far 480 relief camps and 264 temporary shelters serving 260,000 people have been established.
UNICEF has conducted rapid assessments in all affected areas to help ascertain the extent of the humanitarian response and needs. Apart pre-positioned items which have been provided to affected people, such as ORS, bleaching powder, chlorine tablets, mosquito nets, jerry cans and PUR sachets, UNICEF is considering more requests for assistance from state governments.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), 84 people have been killed and some 270,000 people displaced by floods and landslides in 32 districts in the last two weeks.
Food, potable water, and temporary shelter have been identified as major needs, while reports of fever, acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, water borne diseases and snake bites have been reported from at least five districts.
Of particular concern is that flood waters this year have remained stationary, and are not flowing as in the past, which could lead to the collapse of many more adobe homes in the coming days. Thousands of hectares of agricultural land have been destroyed at the peak rice planting season, in the Terai region, the country’s bread basket.
UNICEF, through the Nepal Red Cross Society, has been providing water purification materials for 30,000 families, 6,000 packets of ORS and non-food items (NFI) such as tarpaulins, buckets, blankets and first aid kits from pre-positioned supplies.
UNICEF Nepal has allocated a further $260,000 to respond to immediate needs and support the Government’s response, ensuring that socially excluded groups, including children and women, get access to emergency supplies.
Nationally, the Ministry of Finance has released additional resources and instructed district Governments to do the same. Most of the relief operations and support is being undertaken by the NRCS with major contributions from UNICEF, Save the Children US and the Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
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