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Villagers still struggling to rebuild lives after devastating Bihar floods

© UNICEF India/2008/Ferguson
Children stand in a flooded rice paddy in Madhubani Village, in India’s northern state of Bihar. An estimated 2.5 million people fled severe flooding there after part of the river in neighbouring Nepal breached an embankment on August 18.

By Angela Walker

MADHUBANI, India, 24 November 2008 –  Dinesh Mandal knew he had to get his family to higher ground when the Kosi River rose over it’s banks and surged towards his village. He tried desperately to lift his 10-year-old daughter, Rekha, up onto an elevated railroad track, but he lost his grip and she was swept away in the raging flood waters.

“Her hand slipped and she was just washed away in the current,” Mr. Mandal explained, sadly. “I couldn’t do anything.”

Three months later, Mr. Mandal and his surviving family members are still camped out on the railroad tracks waiting to return home. Their bed is perched precariously on bricks, protected from the elements by a straw mat and plastic sheeting.  A piece of rope strung between the eaves of the temporary shelter holds a blanket and two pillows to keep the family warm at night.

‘Nothing is left’

Mr. Mandal and his family are not alone. Countless makeshift shelters crowd the railroad tracks, full of families trying to eke out an existence while they wait for the flood waters to recede, and for the chance to rebuild their lives.

Kalanand Mandal was at the market when the floods hit. He rushed home to save his family.

© UNICEF India/2008/Ferguson
A woman repairs a home damaged by flooding in Madhubani Village.

“I was extremely scared. I thought my heart was going to stop,” he said. “I tried to rescue my family but not my belongings. Everything is gone in the water. Everything has been washed away. Nothing is left.”    

His home was demolished and his buffalo and a calf were drowned. Today, his fields of rice, wheat, jute, corn and sunflowers remain underwater. He is surviving on rice given to him by the government and a local NGO, which he estimates will last him for another two weeks.

“There is only one thing we are worried about – our future,” he said. “We need everything – a school for our children, medicine for people, drinking water, food, fodder for our animals.”

He fears the water from the village pump has become contaminated. “There is a problem,” he explained. “It’s not possible to drink the water. It has become bitter.”

Rebuilding lives
To help families like Dinesh’s and Kalanand’s, UNICEF is working with the Bihar government, NGOs and other partners to provide relief to villages cut off by the flood. UNICEF is focusing its work on 125 villages in the districts of Supaul, Araria, Madehpura and Saharsa to help the most vulnerable. These villages have been difficult to access or have had minimal assistance over the past few months.

© UNICEF India/2008/Ferguson
A young girl watches a baby get vaccinated by a health worker as part of a UNICEF supported government mobile immunisation and health program in the flood affected area.

UNICEF and its partners are working to provide essential newborn and maternal health care to the cut-off villages. Malnutrition centres will be set up to feed and treat severely and acutely malnourished children. Diarrhoea cases will be treated with zinc and ORS, and routine immunization efforts will be put in place.

Hand-pumps are being repaired, water sources are being disinfected and water quality is being monitored to provide clean drinking water. Sanitation and hygiene promotion is being shared with communities and in alternative learning centres that have been set up in areas where schools were destroyed. Teachers are also being trained in how to help boys and girls cope with the trauma of the flood.

“We know there are still women and children who need our help to cope during this difficult time. Many families have lost everything and will have to rebuild their lives,” said Bijaya Rajbhandari, UNICEF State Representative in Bihar. “We are working with our partners to make sure that the essential services they need are put in place as quickly as possible.”



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