Monsoon floods take their toll on millions across India

Publicado: 25 agosto 2015 7:45 CET

By Rosemarie North, IFRC

The floods came as a huge shock to people in drought-prone parts of Gujarat, India.

“They usually pray for rain. But this was the worst flooding in three generations,” says Suresh Gami, an Indian Red Cross Society first medical responder.  

Most people here live in mud brick houses not built to withstand heavy rain. In one case, two families decided to shelter in a house that collapsed on them, killing nine people.

People tied up goats, buffalo and oxen – not realising this would condemn the animals to death by drowning. An added trauma was the loss of thousands of cows housed in walled enclosures.

The Red Cross team joined government helpers and other agencies to search for people who had evacuated to assess their needs and provide emergency relief.

The rain came at a time when many people without land of their own in Gujarat and other states, would have been earning daily wages by sowing seeds for farmers.

Across the country, Oinam Ratan, another Red Cross medical responder, helped assess needs and deliver water purification tablets after flooding also struck Manipur State on the eastern side of India.   

“I was really shocked when I saw the number of properties and houses lost to the floods,” Ratan says.  “I was also shocked when I saw women fishing in the flood waters, which still had a strong current. They lost their farms so if they don’t fish they won’t have an income. They didn’t care about their own safety.”

Since June 2015, floods have struck the Indian states of West Bengal, Gujarat, Odisha, Manipur, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Assam. In total, the floods affected 13.7 million people, displaced more than one million and claimed nearly 300 lives.

“The Red Cross has set up a control room at its headquarters in New Delhi to coordinate relief supplies and is keeping a close watch on the developing situation across the country,” says Dr. S P Agarwal, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society.

The Red Cross has been in action since before the onset of the floods, helping people evacuate to temporary shelter sites and safer places, distributing tarpaulins, tents, sheets, blankets, sarees, dhotis, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, towels and plastic buckets.

 When Red Cross volunteer Subhas Biswas heard the River Bhagirathee had started overflowing after the incessant rain, he immediately contacted his West Bengal Red Cross district headquarters. They asked him to lead an eight-person search and rescue team at Mirjarpur village.

“The village was fast getting inundated and people were moving towards safer places like school buildings or higher ground,” says Mr Biswas, who has been involved with the Red Cross since 2007.

“Our first job was to look for a boy of about 13, last seen in a pond where the water level was the same as that of the overflowing river. We searched and ultimately found his body, which we handed over to his family in the presence of the local government officials. We always hope to save people’s lives during such times but unfortunately most of our work is recovering the bodies of people who have drowned,” says Mr. Biswas.

To help survivors, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has allocated CHF 335,000(USD 355,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) so the Indian Red Cross can help 80,000 people in Assam, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.

Dr. Veer Bhushan, the Joint Secretary of the Indian Red Cross, says that the two priorities at the moment are tarpaulins to shelter the displaced and water purification units to prevent the spread of water borne diseases