Severe floods have destroyed almost a quarter of a million homes affecting at least 1.4 million people in northern part of the state of Bihar in India. More than 70,000 people have been displaced in Nepal. Children are the most vulnerable to disease and the distress of displacement, says UNICEF.
UNICEF is responding to the worst floods in 50 years in Bihar with clean water, shelter and medicines as families crowd into relief camps in one of India’s poorest states.
The flooding started after the Kosi River broke a dam in Nepal and breached mud embankments in the Bihar state in India a week ago. The displaced families will not be able to return to their homes for another couple of months until the embankment is repaired.
“At a time like this, it matters little how the floods started or who or what is at fault. What is critical is urgent help to those in need. These are the some of the worst floods in generations and they present a huge challenge for governments and humanitarian organisations,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for South Asia, Daniel Toole. “UNICEF’s priority is to deliver life-saving supplies and to ensure that children and women – the most vulnerable to disease and distress — receive medicines, clean drinking water, access to sanitation and, with governments and partners, enough food. Even at the best of times, South Asia has many of the poorest people in the world. These massive floods can wash away even the most basic hope that families have.”
Over 1,000 villages in 13 districts of north Bihar have been affected, causing large-scale displacement. The government in India expects that up to two million people will be affected. The official death toll is 55, although this figure is rising.
The floods have caused extensive damage and disruption to roads, water, and electricity supplies in the affected areas. Essential commodities, including food, are now being transported by boat.
UNICEF is concerned that the floods will severely impact women and children already vulnerable in one of India’s poorest states. A major concern is that as the number of displaced people in relief camps increases, so does the risk of communicable diseases. Hygiene conditions in the camps are poor: there is an insufficient amount of hand pumps for clean drinking water and of toilets, resulting in open defecation, an extremely dangerous practice as it facilitates the spread of disease.
Displaced children, pregnant and lactating women, as well as the elderly face additional challenges due to the extremely hot weather. The heat, combined with limited supplies of safe drinking water and poor hygiene conditions, poses a great risk of water and vector-borne diseases. Cases of fever and diarrhoea have already been reported.
In south eastern Nepal, the flooding has caused significant damages and human suffering in Sunsari and Saptari district, displacing at least 70,000 people. In addition, over 5,000 people from Bihar have crossed into Nepal to seek relief from the floods. Many of the displaced are sheltering in schools, and around 30 per cent of those are children.
The immediate needs of the affected populations are water supply and hygiene materials, food – including special foods for babies as well as pregnant and lactating women – and shelter.
In India, UNICEF has conducted a rapid assessment of the situation in three of the worst affected districts, and has provided essential supplies to some 8,000 families. Working with local government and partners, UNICEF has provided tarpaulin sheets, jerry cans, hygiene kits, water purification tablets, 60 life-jackets, 400,000 halogen tablets, 25,000 kilograms of bleaching powder and 30,000 oral rehydration salt packets. UNICEF continues to work with local government and NGO partners to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and women affected by the floods.
In Nepal, UNICEF has already provided relief items to over 10,000 people in temporary settlements and is seeking to reach 55,000 affected people in total. So far, UNICEF has delivered in collaboration with other humanitarian actors and government agencies: 500 blankets, 100 plastic sheets, 2,112 tarpaulins, 13,200 sachets of oral rehydration salt, 8,000 insecticide bed nets, 4,869 sets of hygiene kits, 20 first aid kits, 325 kitchen utensils, 90 sets of school kits. UNICEF has also distributed 312,000 water purifying tablets, 5,500 buckets, 3,700 mugs, and 585 bottles of water purification solution. UNICEF is collaborating with other organizations to install 20 hand pumps, 760 latrines, 60 garbage pits, and 320 bathing spaces, especially for women and adolescent girls, and will provide support to install temporary latrines in all shelter sites.