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Rebuilding lives in marginalized communities of flood-affected Bihar

UNICEF Image: India, Bihar, flood
© UNICEF India/2007/Joseph
12-year-old Sangita Kumari and her friend Sanju were trapped on the roof of a thatched hut for fifteen days.

By Alistair Gretarsson

BIHAR, India, 19 September 2007 – Remote Sarainyan Village is flanked by embankments designed to keep the waters of the Budhi Gandak River from flowing into the surrounding fields. During the recent monsoon, however, these embankments had an extremely negative effect. They stopped the flood water from draining back into the river – leaving it to stagnate in the fields and marooning the displaced residents.

12-year-old Sangita Kumari was trapped on the roof of her thatched hut for fifteen days, along with her family and her friend Sanju. They had nothing to eat and nowhere to go while they waited patiently for the flood waters to recede.

“I felt very afraid during the night,” Sangita said. “It was dark all around and I was scared that if I fell down off the roof I’d get bitten by a snake. I also thought that if I fell in the water I’d get washed away.”

UNICEF Image: India, Bihar, flood
© UNICEF India/2007/Joseph
UNICEF-supplied family hygiene kits were distributed to mothers to help fight infections in vulnerable newborn babies.

Children especially vulnerable

The disaster has caused a variety of health problems in the community. Many adults gave up their food in order to allow children to eat. In addition, the flood waters have caused serious sanitation problems.
In situations like these, children are particularly at-risk. Many youths have suffered from skin ailments and diarrhoea. UNICEF is helping children by providing mothers of newborn babies with family hygiene kits and instructions on how to avoid infections.

The organization is also supporting authorities in a mass measles vaccination campaign as well as setting up relief camps for those who have been displaced from their homes.

Victims initially unreachable

UNICEF workers were forced to abandon their first attempt at reaching Sarainyan Village because of strong currents. Two days later, they were finally able to return with critical supplies.

Since the waters have receded and the roads have become passable, even more essential supplies have been distributed to this vulnerable community including bleaching powder and water purification tablets. Women have been given iron and folic acid supplements while oral rehydration salts have been distributed for those suffering from diarrhoea.

Now, the process of rebuilding lives has begun. Families of this already marginalized community have lost their sole source of financial income as their crops have been completely ruined, the fields submerged in flood water.
Much more remains to be done in this suffering region. As more people return to their homes, their health and well-being is UNICEF’s top priority, in addition to renewing the region for sustainable living.




19 September 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on efforts to rebuild and recover after devastating floods in Bihar, India.
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