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Floodwaters threaten lives of children in Bangladesh

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2004
Children in both urban and rural areas struggle to find clean water

DHAKA/NEW YORK, 28 July 2004 – Overflowing sewers mixing with floodwaters are putting the health of millions of children at risk in Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka. 

“In urban areas, poor areas, the situation for children is extremely dangerous. The water in the cities is filled with filth and the children who are playing and walking through the water are vulnerable. They are easy prey to infectious diseases,” said UNICEF Bangladesh Chief of Communications Naseem-Ur Rehman in a phone interview this morning.

The sewer water is gushing out of manholes in many areas of the city, which has a population of more than 10 million people. Diseases like diarrhoea, watery dysentery, acute respiratory infection (ARI), jaundice, typhoid and scabies are being reported. Acute respiratory infection is one of the single largest killers of children annually in Bangladesh, said Mr. Rehman.

The presence of the black, foul-smelling water suggests that the worst of the problem is yet to come. As the dank floodwater stagnates, children face an increasing risk of disease. 

More than one-third of Dhaka is inundated. All roads in Motijheel, the commercial hub of the country, are submerged; anyone wishing to go to the central bank must wade through thigh-deep water. 

Fifty-one of Dhaka’s 90 wards have been affected by the flood. So far, 206 flood shelters have been opened in the city, in which more than 200,000 people have taken shelter. There are nearly 5,000 flood shelters open in the rest of the country. Since last weekend, 15,263 schools have been affected by the flood and 14,932 schools have been closed. Currently, 1,571 schools have been converted into temporary flood shelters.

Floods claim children’s lives across the country

More than 400 people, including children, have died in the floods, from drowning, injuries and other causes. Over 25 million children, women and men have been displaced by the floodwaters, caused by the monsoon season.

“The situation here is grave,” said  Mr. Rehman.  “There are an increasing amount of people in the shelter homes, and there is a lot of anxiety there, especially among the children.”

The floodwaters in the north-eastern and northern regions are slowly receding. But in the central and south-central regions, the flood levels could remain at standstill for a few more days.

In both rural and urban areas, the shortage of safe drinking water threatens to cause an outbreak of waterborne diseases, including diarrhoea, which is a leading cause of child deaths in developing countries. Other problems include poor sanitary conditions, lack of baby food and shortage of essential medicines.

UNICEF assistance

UNICEF responded early to the floods with relief and rescue operations, drawing on its strong  presence in the field. There are 40 UNICEF Programme Coordinators (UPCs) in as many districts who are closely working  with sectoral departments of the government to ensure that the needs of children are served at this difficult time.

In response to the urgent need to help purify drinking water, UNICEF has distributed 2 million water purifying tablets (WPT) and another consignment of 3 million tablets is in the pipeline. Some 1,120 sanitary latrines have also been installed at various flood shelters.

To combat diarrhoeal dehydration, large quantities of oral rehydration salts (ORS) and 25,000 bags of intravenous fluids have also been distributed. About 10 metric tons of the ORS was locally procured. These supplies have been distributed to medical centres and temporary shelters.

More than 10,000 jerry cans, each with 10 litre capacity, have been distributed among 1,571 flood shelters for fetching and storage of safe drinking water. Fibreglass water tanks of 500 litre capacity have also been distributed to many shelters.

The importance of hand pumps and wells for fresh water

“UNICEF has been focusing on the provision of fresh drinking water,” said Mr. Rehman.
”Water and sanitation is our first priority, and the second priority is health – making sure children can be rehydrated and treated for disease.” 

Clean water is essential for the survival of people affected by the floods. Around 177,000 tubewells have been submerged by the floods; submerged tubewells are now quickly being rehabilitated. At shelter camps in severely affected areas, 428 new hand pumps have been installed. To ensure environmental sanitation and disinfection of contaminated tubewells, 5 metric tons of bleaching powder has been distributed and another 5 metric tons is in the pipeline.



Audio interview

UNICEF Bangladesh Chief of Communications Naseem-Ur Rehman speaks to UNICEF correspondent Maya Dollarhide about the severe flood situation on the ground.

Audio Clip ([mp3]; Right click to download)

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