4 August 2007, New Delhi - Relief efforts are underway to respond to the relentless, continued floods which have uprooted the lives of millions of people in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. The region's monsoon flooding is said to be the worst in many years.
It is reported that more than 12 million people in the country have been stranded by the floods-a population the size of New York City and Los Angeles combined. This week's torrential rains have had a devastating effect in India's Northeastern States as well as in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
This emergency follows flooding in three other states just one month earlier. Over the past four weeks, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and its partner Caritas India have responded in the states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa with food, water, household supplies and hygiene efforts that have reached 50,000 families.
Now, rivers have swelled above danger levels in the Northeast. As many as 200,000 people in the capital of Guwahati have sought cover from makeshift shelters on raised embankments, government schools and office buildings in Dhemaji district.
"Houses are totally submerged. People are taking shelter in the schools, which has forced school authorities to close down the schools. Most of the children are now in the relief camps," said Fr. Philip Purty, a CRS Partner responding in the area.
In Pakistan, CRS has taken a leading role in responding to the worst flooding and cyclone damage in decades. The flooding has affected millions of people in remote areas of Sindh and Balochistan Provinces, posing enormous logistical challenges for relief agencies. CRS was one of the first organizations to respond and is now reaching remote areas in both provinces with a program of relief kits, water, hygiene and shelter.
The first 4,000 families have received relief kits, hygiene training, and water purification tablets.
"Families are displaced and taking water from any available source, including open wells and traditional irrigation systems. Cases of cholera and watery diarrhea continue to appear and treatment of water is vital to people's health," said Michelle Neukirchen, CRS Pakistan Water and Sanitation Advisor.
CRS is also providing 50,000 liters of tested water daily, as well as community water tanks, thousands of household water filters, and the construction of bathing spaces and latrines. Longer-term efforts will include rehabilitation of water wells, supporting communities on permanent solutions (hand pumps, water motor pumps), and shelter repair and reconstruction.
Communities take part in the building of the latrines (one per two households) by providing the labor; CRS provides plastic sheets, plastic slabs, bamboo and rope. At the current rate, communities are building 40 latrines per day.
"The issue of latrines is serious because this is a desert area, without many trees, so open defecation is not an option during the day, especially for women," said CRS Pakistan's Emergency Director Gul Wali Khan.
In Bangladesh, an estimated 4 million people are in need of assistance due to the dramatically rising water levels. CRS' partners are carrying out assessments of the most heavily affected areas, paying special attention to issues of clean water and threat of water-borne disease-common dangers during floods due to water run-off and contamination of wells, ponds and other water sources.
More than one third of Nepal's districts have flooded in the past two weeks, with the most devastation felt in the lowland (Terai) belt that borders India. Flood waters have heavily destroyed houses, crops and food stocks, and left many farm animals dead. Initial assessments indicate 48,483 families (268,136 people) are badly affected. CRS is working with Caritas Nepal to assess flood affected areas throughout the country. Caritas has also distributed immediate emergency relief to several thousand families in four districts.