IFRC


Concern grows for homeless as floods hit South Asia

Published: 16 July 2003 0:00 CET

Bijoy Patro in Delhi

From rescuing stranded people by boat to providing water purification tablets or high protein biscuits, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers have been among the first to respond to the needs of some of the 6.7 million people affected by floods in thousands of villages across South Asia.

At least 300 people have died in rising waters, lightning strikes and mudslides since the monsoon rains first lashed South Asia at the beginning of June. The homes of more than 650,000 people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal have been destroyed, with the Indian state of Assam being the most badly affected.

The floods have left tens of thousands of people suffering from water-borne diseases, which the authorities fear are becoming an increasing problem. The Health Minister in India's north-eastern state of Assam was quoted saying that at least 50,000 people are suffering from water-borne diseases there.

Monsoon floods are a regular feature of the region. Yet, the common river basins of the Ganges and Bhramaputra across Nepal, India and Bangladesh are experiencing worse floods with every passing year. Most rivers in Nepal, northern and eastern India and Bangladesh are flowing above the danger level.

"It is a complex region," says Bob McKerrow, head of the International Federation’s delegation for South Asia. "The floods have to be understood not only in the context of the monsoon rains that visit the region, which only add to the swollen rivers, already full of water from the melting snow from the mountain ranges of the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush. All this is aggravated by deforestation and other ecological damage."

Floodwaters from Nepal have displaced millions of families in the central Indian state of Bihar even as forecasters warn of more rains due in northeast India, which could further worsen the situation in the worst affected state of Assam.

The flooding in Bangladesh, aggravated by flood waters from the very same rivers flowing in from neighbouring India, have submerged a third of the delta country in the past two weeks. Flood waters have also polluted drinking water and inundated agricultural land, in turn damaging the rice crop. Affected people can only be reached with relief by boat.

Monsoon flooding also threatens the country's food security situation. The country produces about 24 million tons of rice and imports two-to-three million tons of the cereal every year.

Meanwhile, 30 of Nepal's 75 districts have been affected by floods as government sources confirm that 67 people have died - more than 20 of them in thunderstorms.

Indian Red Cross national headquarters today dispatched truckloads of relief materials - kitchen sets, plastic buckets, clothing, towels and bedding and plastic sheeting for temporary housing - to the Assam state branch.

The Indian Red Cross branch in Bihar has already deployed 70 boats to assist with relief and rescue operations as district branches are distributing ready-to-eat food as well as providing 100,000 water purification tablets for distribution.

The floods have also shown how useful it is to prepare vulnerable communities to face such disasters. "While millions of people have been affected by this year's floods and landslides, we feel satisfied that the first aid training, the stockpiling of relief materials and the resources that went into preparing the communities to face floods was put to good use," McKerrow says.

Meanwhile, staff and volunteers of the Bangladesh Red Crescent are carrying out a second phase of distribution, providing rice, lentils, dates and high protein biscuits to flood-affected people in four of the worst affected districts.

Many have also died in Afghanistan due to floods and accompanying landslides. Afghan Red Crescent teams immediately left for the most severely affected areas, including the Panjshir Valley and the central Logar and south-eastern Paktia provinces.

Following an assessment of the situation, the Afghan Red Crescent has undertaken distribution of relief to affected families.

Related links:

India: appeals, updates and reports
Bangladesh: appeals, updates and reports
Nepal: appeals, updates and reports
Responding to floods
Disaster preparedness
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