Bangladesh + 3 more

Caritas responds to monsoon devastation in South Asia

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Vatican City, 7 August 2007 - National Caritas agencies in India, Nepal, Bangladeshand Pakistancontinue to work non-stop to help some of the more than 20 million people left homeless by the devastating monsoon floods that hit South Asiaover the last month. The rains still fall and new areas continue to be inundated.

"More than half of Bangladeshis underwater, and the predictions are for more rain. We are bracing ourselves and moving quickly to avert further tragedy," said Akhila D'Rozario, Director of Disaster Management and Development at Caritas Bangladesh.

"Some 500,000 people remain completely cut off, with no access to food or clean water," Mr D'Rozario said, adding that there is a lack of boats to get to many areas.

Some 7.5 million people have fled their homes in Bangladesh amidst the worst monsoon flooding in many decades, while in India13.7 million people have abandoned their homes in search of refuge. Though many people are sheltering in schools and other public buildings, many others have amassed in makeshift camps where disease looms, or they are simply piecing together shelters sometimes of little more than sticks on higher patches of ground. Hundreds of thousands more in Nepalalso had to flee their homes.

The rains, which were heavy over the weekend in India's northeastern Bihar and Assamstates, are predicted to move southwards over Bangladeshand India's West Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states in the coming days.

Father Varghese Mattamana, executive director of Caritas India, said the local Caritas offices were keeping an eye on rising water levels, as rivers that hadn't already burst their banks remained under strain.

"In the past few days we've seen an improvement in most parts of India that were affected, but the monsoon season isn't due to end until September," he said, "so we have to be vigilant."

More than 1200 people have been killed in India, while in Bangladeshmore than 150 people have died. Nearly 100 were reported killed in Nepal.

The Caritas Confederation through Caritas Bangladesh is currently providing emergency relief to thousands of families, including food, clean water, clothing, bedding, hygiene items and cooking sets. The organisation is also building shelters with latrines for 2500 of the neediest families. In addition to the original appeal for $US 800,000, Caritas Bangladeshis now seeking a further $US 1.5 million in order to provide emergency food to another 10,000 families, as the scope of the disaster widens.

Caritas India, working closely with US-based partner Catholic Relief Services, in the initial stages is aiding 15,000 families, providing food, water, tarpaulins, and medical supplies. Caritas Indiaimmediately released nearly $US100,000 to act quickly, making funds available to partner agencies in Bihar, one of the worst-hit regions in India. Caritas Indiahas planned to funnel another $US185,000 worth of aid to areas in Bihar. The Dutch Caritas Cordaid, Caritas Germanyand Caritas Italyhave all made commitments to help in the relief effort, contributing to a Confederation-wide appeal of $US 700,000

Caritas Indiais also responding to flood-affected people in Andhra, Orissa, Assam, Maharastra, Gujarat, Karnataka and KeralaStates. Caritas is providing immediate relief to over 23,000 families. Caritas is also using cash-for-work programmes to involve communities in building shelters and water decontamination projects.

Nepal

The devastation covers a large swath of the country, making relief efforts especially difficult. From east to west, the most damage is felt in the lowland (Terai) belt that borders India. Flood waters have destroyed houses, crops and food stocks, and left many farm animals dead.Local partners have distributed immediate emergency relief to several thousand families in four districts, and staff and partners are carrying out assessments in and around the most vulnerable areas of Janakpur.

"The biggest problem is access.The roads have been washed out, the bridges have been washed away. We might be able to do some of our assessments by motor bike, but we imagine we'll mostly be walking. Instead of going really high tech on this assessment, we've got to go low tech. Bicycles, pedestrians and animals are best able to move around to flood-affected areas, which is what we need to reach people who are especially vulnerable in remote villages," said Cassie Dummett, an emergency technical advisor with Catholic Relief Services who is currently in Nepal.

Pakistan

Caritas Pakistanhas launched an appeal for over $US 1 million to deal with the worst flooding and cyclone damage in decades. USpartner CRS is mounting a response worth over $US 2 million. Both are targeting the remote and badly damaged Sindh and Balochistan provinces, with the most important priorities to provide clean water and to rehabilitate water sources, as well as building shelters. Caritas will provide medical supplies and expertise to combat outbreaks of water-born illnesses as well. Nearly 20,000 families will benefit.

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organisations present in over 200 countries and territories.

For more information contact:

Nancy McNally, media officer, Tel: +39 06 69879752, Mobile: +39 334 2344 136, mcnally@caritas.va, www.caritas.org