by Stephen Ryan in India
The monsoon is part of the yearly cycle of life in India, and has been for centuries. While those in the north west have been praying for rain to come and lower temperatures, the people of Assam have been inundated and driven from their homes. Soil and paddy fields have been washed away in the deluge, and many homes have been flattened or submerged. Tarpaulin sheets have been distributed to those in greatest need, but many still lack shelter. With crops and homes lost, many are facing a bleak future.
Many lives have been lost, and millions are affected by the most severe flooding Assam has seen in recent years.
Rukia Shikdar lost both her family home in Majeshwar village and three acres of paddy land. Fleeing the flood waters, the family has used plastic sheeting to build a temporary shelter, but have little access to health services, safe drinking water or adequate sanitation. The district authorities are doing their best to assist the people, but the needs are overwhelming, and already there is an increase in cases of diarrhoea and viral fever
Unfortunately, Rukia is not alone. From her village alone, 27 families are living along a two kilometre stretch of embankment. And this story is repeated across many of the worst affected districts. Over the past two weeks, 101 people - almost half of them children - have died due to the floods. 16 people died following landslides caused by heavy rain in the region.
At least 2.2 million people have been affected by this flooding, which was exceptionally early in the season. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries are still flowing above danger levels, but in most areas, waters have begun to recede.
The authorities have been distributing relief, aiming to meet basic food needs, and 120 medical teams, alongside 16 National Disaster Response Force Teams have been deployed by the government across 13 severely affected districts. The state government has also provided support teams.
Since the onset of the disaster, the Indian Red Cross Society has been providing assistance, in particular in offering non-food items such as blankets, tarpaulins, kitchen sets and clothing to those who have been worst affected. The society’s national headquarters immediately released 2,000 family packs from their regional warehouse to assist in the response to this disaster as well as carrying out an assessment of needs in the most severely affected districts.
Dr. S.P. Agarwal, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society, said the organization’s investment in training, in particular in the National Disaster Water and Sanitation Response Teams, confirms the value of preparedness. “In order to prevent the outbreak of disease, we must ensure that those who have been affected in this disaster have access to safe and clean drinking water,” he said. “This, together with hygiene promotion, is key to prevent a deteriorating situation. Our teams are well equipped to respond to such challenges.”
John Roche, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ India office, said: “The Red Cross, with its extensive experience in disaster management at community level, has a key role to play in assisting Assam. In particular, providing safe drinking water and sanitation, as well as promoting good hygiene practices, is an area where Indian Red Cross Society is a key agency. In this way, we will complement the efforts of state and central government authorities.”
Over the coming days, the Indian Red Cross Society will continue to scale up its response, focusing in particular on those who are living on embankments, as they are particularly vulnerable. Meeting basic medical needs will also be a priority, and is an area where the society intends to strengthen the state and district branches for future disasters.