Anna Nelson and Devendra Tak of the International Federation
Severe flooding has affected tens of millions of people around the world in recent weeks and months, including Bangladesh, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sudan. From Dhaka to Khartoum, officials say they are seeing the heaviest rains in decades and in some cases, recent memory.
In South Asia, an estimated 35 million people have been affected while a staggering 200 million people have been affected by floods in China. In all of these countries, volunteers and staff from the Red Cross Red Crescent are working to assist vulnerable communities by distributing basic relief goods, helping people reach safer ground and providing first aid to those in need. The International Federation is also supporting relief efforts in flood-affected areas.
Although the rains are letting up in some areas of South Asia, life remains miserable for the millions of people who have lost their homes, crops and belongings. Food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, clothing and shelter are urgently needed in many areas.
According to reports, half of Bangladesh is currently under water and around eight million people there have been affected by the monsoon rains, which started about a month and a half ago. Tens of thousands of hectares of crops have been submerged, while health experts fear that the number of diarrhoea cases will double in mid-August because of the scarcity of safe drinking water in most of the flooded areas.The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and the International Federation have opened an emergency cell in the capital of Dhaka to monitor the situation and assess the losses.
So far, the Red Cross Red Crescent has already assisted 9,000 families and another 9,000 are expected to receive aid within the coming days, including rice, lentils, cooking oil, salt and clothing. The International Federation is also appealing for emergency funds to provide immediate assistance to people in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, in India, at least 14 million people have been affected or displaced by flooding so far this year. There are also fears in India that a lack of clean drinking water will result in an outbreak of waterborne illnesses, including diarrhoea, skin infections and malaria.
In Bihar, the country’s worst affected area, as many as 70,000 homes are thought to have been destroyed, leaving some villagers stranded and forcing others to build temporary encampments on railway tracks or raised highways.
In the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, villagers were seen by TV news crews clinging to treetops and screaming for help. Since Thursday evening, fresh floods have inundated nearly 300 villages.
In western India, too, flights and trains were delayed by monsoon rains in the financial hub of Mumbai, where thousands waded knee-deep in water, while it is now raining heavily in Gujarat.
Some people have been bitten by snakes, others have been crushed under the rubble of their homes, and many more have simply drowned. India’s harvest is likely to be severely impacted by the floods, while countless cattle have also been killed.
India is no stranger to monsoon rains, which hit the country every year, but according to the country’s meteorological department, unusual monsoon patterns this year have led to earlier and heavier than normal rains.
Disaster response teams from the Indian Red Cross Society have been deployed in Assam, where they are coordinating the search, rescue and relief operation in the affected areas. Red Cross volunteers have been mobilized since the very start of the disaster to assist with the relief effort across the country.
The Bihar state branch of the Red Cross has also been actively involved in the search and rescue operation and is assisting the local authorities. In addition, volunteers have distributed tarps, kitchen equipment and clothing to people in need.
In Nepal, the National Red Cross Society is leading the coordination of relief efforts among the government, UN agencies and other aid organizations. Trained Red Cross volunteers have been mobilized as part of the response but access to affected communities remains a problem in remote areas.
In some places, volunteers are using boats to reach marooned villages that have not received assistance in days. It is estimated that over 333,000 people have been affected in Nepal.
In cooperation with the World Food Programme, local Red Cross volunteers and staff are providing rice, noodles, salt and sugar to around 62,000 people, along with first aid and ambulance services. Plastic sheets, cooking utensils and blankets have also been given to more than 3,000 families.
Last week, the International Federation released 250,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to assist the Nepalese Red Cross in providing emergency assistance to thousands of people.
The Red Cross has also facilitated for the provision of shelter in public buildings, such as schools and community centres.
Elsewhere in South Asia, relief and recovery efforts are continuing in south-west Pakistan, where torrential rains, suffocating temperatures and moving flood waters led to a miserable situation for around 2.5 million people in the provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh in June.
So far, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society has distributed at least 13,000 food parcels to vulnerable families, while around 14,000 patients have received medical care thanks to mobile health teams.
Several of the International Federation’s Emergency Response Units were deployed to assist in the areas of health, water and sanitation, and logistics as part of the Red Cross Red Crescent’s response to the devastation.
The International Federation also launched an appeal for over 21 million Swiss francs to assist more than 50,000 families over the next six months.
Since late May, Chinese residents have been struggling to cope with killer floods that have left around 700 people dead.
More than 200 million people have been affected by the unusually heavy summer flooding, which has been described, in some areas, as the worst in 80 to 100 years.
As is so often the case, it’s the country’s poorest of the poor who have been hardest hit by the rains, which have caused rivers to overflow and forced the evacuation of at least five million people.
River levels have begun to drop in recent days but the prospects are dim for poor farmers, who have lost their land, their harvests and their source of income.
Last week, the International Federation called for emergency funds to get urgent help to around 400,000 people who are in desperate need of assistance, while the Red Cross Society of China and the government have been distributing relief items since the flooding began in late May.
According to latest information, more than 46,000 families have been affected by the worst flooding to hit Sudan in two decades.
Ten of the country’s 26 states are affected and more than 200,000 people have been displaced.
In late July, the International Federation sent a rapid response Field Assessment and Coordination Team to the region to assess the level of damage and the needs of vulnerable communities.
More than 3,000 tents, plastic sheets and blankets have been distributed, while Sudanese Red Crescent volunteers have also distributed nearly two million water chlorination tablets. The Red Crescent is also running 14 mobile health clinics in the worst-affected areas.
In mid-July, the International Federation launched an emergency appeal for over two million francs to support the Sudanese Red Crescent’s activities. Given that the situation has continued to deteriorate, the International Federation expects to call for additional funding this week for Sudan.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island was recently hit by days of heavy rain, which caused landslides and floods that killed dozens and submerged or damaged over 600 homes.
Water and mud up to three metres (ten feet) high also seriously hampered relief and rescue efforts in many remote areas. Specialised staff and volunteers from the Indonesian Red Cross were immediately mobilized to provide first aid, evacuate people and provide relief supplies to the worst affected areas.
In addition to many Asian nations and Sudan, floods and heavy rains have also hit Britain, the Russian Federation, the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso and the Gambia.
In Colombia, the annual rainy season has affected more than half a million people. In July, the government declared a “state of public calamity” in Cordoba and labelled the area of La Mojana as a disaster zone.
The Colombian Red Cross has been providing assistance with equipment and shelters, along with humanitarian relief including food, mosquito nets, soap and cooking tools.