Bangladesh + 4 more

Asia: ACT members increase support to flood-affected communities

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GENEVA, August 15, 2007 -In the midst of the severe flooding crisis throughout vast regions of central and south Asia, members of the global alliance, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, are working together to increase life-saving support and assistance to flood-affected communities.

"While the massive amount of water is slowly withdrawing, the damage and emergency need is showing its true colours," said Arne Grieg Riisnæs speaking from Bangladesh with ACT member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA). Reuters reports that 35 million people are affected by the flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal alone.

Supporting the most vulnerable

The humanitarian emergencies brought on by the torrential rains are particularly severe this year and many communities are facing a very difficult situation, a ccording to Mr. Sushant Agrawal, the director of Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA). "When you lose everything it is very hard to recover. People have lost their houses and belongings. The standing crops are gone. The flood has destroyed the total source of their livelihood."

"We are constantly hungry. I do not have enough food to feed my children," says Shifa Begam from Jithkar, a village near the Harirampur-district in Bangladesh. With tears in her eyes, she accepts a big bag with rice, cooking oil, lentils and medicines. The support is part of an aid operation by ACT members, which are the only humanitarian support that is present in the village.

Across the Asian continent, ACT members are planning and implementing assistance for more than 270,000 vulnerable people in the various flood-related emergencies. Emergency responses include immediate food distribution, safe water, housing reconstruction and future risk reduction. ACT members are coordinating their efforts throughout each country to ensure an effective and appropriate response to those most vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance. The planned impact is contingent on sufficient funding from ACT alliance members.

A very early monsoon season

The director of Lutheran World Service India, Mr. Neville Pradhan, says several factors are contributing to the heightened severity of these floods. These include increased deforestation, a closer proximity of homes to bodies of water and very early and heavy rains in this monsoon season. "We are seeing very intense, torrential showers over a short period of time completely saturating the ground. Normally this kind of flooding happens much later in the season."

According to Mr. Pradhan, people would typically return to their homes a week or two after a flood, but in this current monsoon season, families are stuck on high ground far from their homes because just as the waters start to recede in their villages, more heavy rains begin pouring down. He said that this prolonged assault of rain and remaining flood waters not only damages homes, but can also fully destroy them after just a week or two.

A local response by a global alliance

In addition to the immediate assistance and rehabilitation work, a key aspect of the planned flood responses by ACT members is to build upon the current coping mechanisms of communities and to reduce their future risks.

"In times like this during a crisis, people are very resilient... They share with each other," notes Mr. Pradhan while stressing that ACT appeals need to be as fully funded as possible by ACT alliance members in order to help affected communities minimize the affect of future disasters. "We leave people at the edge again if we do not begin to address the root causes of the disaster and do disaster risk reduction. If we invest in the longer term measures we make people and communities less vulnerable."

Across south and central Asia, ACT members are working together to continue and also increase their support for the many communities in distress. "ACT has brought the partners on the ground together and enhanced the effectiveness of the response," said Mr. Pradhan.

Mr. Agrawal, who is also the moderator for the ACT International Executive Committee, shared, "The situation is pretty alarming. This is a time when the global church must come together and stand with the poor, socially excluded and most vulnerable."

Country Specific Responses:

Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, members of ACT have been responding since the onset of the floods. ACT member Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS) provided emergency assistance to about 30,400 people in the Kurigram and Lalmonirhat districts. Provisions included food kits with rice, lentils, high-protein biscuits and cooking supplies as well as non-food items such as tarpaulins, clothing and health items. The Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB) has also already responded in the Harirampur district in collaboration with Norwegian Church Aid (NCA).

All of the ACT members in Bangladesh including RDRS and CCDB as well as the Church of Bangladesh (CoB), Koinonia and the Social Health & Education Development Board (SHED) are also beginning additional assistance to 6,400 families with support from the ACT Rapid Response Fund.

India

In India, ACT members report widespread devastation, with 1,338 villages being severely affected by the flooding in the Uttar Pradesh province alone. In the days after the floods, members responded immediately by establishing feeding centers to support those most in need of assistance. Water purification tablets were also distributed to minimize the spread of water-borne diseases.

ACT members, Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) and Lutheran World Service India (LWSI), launched a combined appeal last week to continue support for 24,000 flood-affected and vulnerable families in need of emergency assistance in the provinces of Assam, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. "With full funding support to the ACT appeal, 5,550 families will also be able to receive assistance to repair and rebuild their houses," Mr. Agrawal added.

In the second week of July, CASA and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India (UELCI) launched a separate appeal through ACT for continued assistance to 58,500 people in the province of Andhra Pradesh, affected by earlier severe flooding in the country.

China

Vast regions of China have also been dramatically affected by the heavy rains and resulting flooding. ACT's member in China, the Amity Foundation, has launched an ACT appeal to respond to the flood emergency in the Chongqing municipality and also the Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. Amity plans to impact 5,000 homeless and severely affected families through their response. Planned emergency assistance includes distribution of food and non-food items as well as rehabilitation of drinking water systems, irrigation systems, houses, clinics and schools.

Nepal

At the beginning of August, ACT member Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Nepal began food assistance to 5,000 people in specifically targeted vulnerable villages. Other assistance by LWF includes the distribution of non-food items and roofing to more than 550 families. Plans for a larger appeal for the country are still being assessed by LWF in coordination with UN agencies and other responders in the region.

Pakistan

The Pakistan/Afghanistan office of ACT member Church World Service (CWS) began responding at the end of June to the Pakistan flood situation in Gadap and Sindh with support from the ACT Rapid Response Fund. Further work is being done to implement a larger response in the hard-hit Balochistan province.

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