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Flooding in Nepal leaves women and children vulnerable

© UNICEF Nepal/2008/Shrestha
A man carries his child through the floodwaters in Sunsari District, Nepal, after his home was swept away.
By Ashma Shrestha Basnet

SUNSARI, Nepal, 2 September 2008 In better times, the classroom in the Sunsari district of southern Nepal would be filled with young students. Today, it is occupied by 10 families – a total of about 80 people – seeking refuge after the Saptakoshi River flooded and washed away everything they had.

Conditions at the school are Spartan. Children sleep on the cold cement floors of the classrooms, lacking blankets or proper clothes. Pneumonia is spreading amongst the young, while their mothers struggle just to keep them fed.

“We don’t have mattresses and blankets with us, so our children sleep like this,” says Ms. Begum, 40, a mother of 11 children. “I am having difficulty finding food for my three-month-old child. I used to feed her cow’s milk, but now the river has taken away all our cows.”

Ms. Begum is not alone. Other women in the camp share similar plights. Shahida Khatun, 25, a mother of four daughters, is seven-months pregnant. She reached the camp by wading through the cold, neck-deep water. Her husband, Tarja, worries about her health, and the health of their unborn child.

“My wife started to bleed soon after we reached the camp,” he recalls. “She was taken to the hospital but she is still weak. I am worried about her as she is not getting a proper diet or a safe place to rest.”

Concern for adolescent girls

While displaced families wait for the government to resettle them to a safer place, the women, particularly the mothers of adolescent daughters, are constantly worried.
© UNICEF Nepal/2008/Shrestha
Children at a relief camp for flood survivors eat meals provided by the Government of Nepal.

Naima Khatun, 32, is concerned about her two teenage daughters. “We are sharing this room with five other families, and I don’t get sleep at night thinking about their safety,” she says. “It’s quite embarrassing to share this tiny space with other males.”

To address such privacy and security concerns, UNICEF and its partners are installing 320 bathing spaces especially for women and adolescent girls. UNICEF is also advocating for, and establishing, separate toilets for males and females, and has requested that proper lighting and security patrols be implemented at night to reduce the risk of violence against women.

In addition, UNICEF is working with local partners to monitor and report on protection issues in the shelters – and to ensure that psycho-social support is provided to those in need.

Material support from UNICEF

© UNICEF Nepal/2008/Shrestha
Women at a relief camp in Sunsari inspect the items in a hygiene kit distributed by UNICEF.
Meanwhile, UNICEF is helping Save the Children to establish at least 30 safe spaces for young people in Sunsari. The spaces will support a variety of activities, including early childhood development, informal schooling, life-skills training, psycho-social support and recreation for children.

In material support for the affected districts of Sunsari and Saptari, UNICEF has distributed 1,000 blankets for small children and is procuring 10,000 clothing kits for children and young people – along with 3,000 bedding and clothing kits for pregnant and lactating women.

UNICEF has already reached 10,000 people and is planning to reach the total of 55,000 living in temporary shelters in the affected districts.



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