China's long wet summer prompts fears of malaria

Originally published
by Ma Wenbo of the Red Cross Society of China, in Henan province
Flooding is a recurring disaster in China. But this year, the flood season has been uncharacteristically long. Where floods normally end by early August, provinces such as Henan, which had already been subjected to damaging floods in July, received another episode of extraordinary flooding during the first two weeks of September.

Floods, landslides and hail across the province resulted in 61 deaths and affected millions of people who lost their homes, personal belongings and crops.

On September 25, I accompanied two Federation delegates to monitor the distribution of mosquito nets by the Red Cross Society of China's (RCSC) Henan Provincial Branch in one of the Province's worst affected areas, the city of Zhumadian.

The nets are one component of the family package that is being distributed by the RCSC in cooperation with the Federation following an appeal for 7.93 million Swiss francs (US$ 5.97 million) in July.

Although we are well into autumn, the continuing warm weather and flooded land remain fertile breeding grounds for mosquitoes, increasing the risk to flood affected communities of malaria.

The township we visited is called "Laojunmiao", which literally means 'the Taoist Saint's Temple'. Unfortunately the Saint has not been powerful enough to protect this community being frequently hit by natural disasters, be they drought or flood.

With the county's dirt roads still heavily flooded, the team only has access to one of the township's villages, called Wutun. By the time we had arrived, the names of those who would receive the aid had been chosen through a village-wide vote, listed on a blackboard outside the gate of the village committee court and village officials were all busy distributing.

Each beneficiary signed their name on a special form before taking his/her share, while some of the poorer villagers who could not read or write left their fingerprints.

"All our crops were destroyed by the repeated floods this summer," said one villager, 63-year-old Wu Jinhua, after receiving a new mosquito net and leaving her fingerprint.

With both of her adult children married, she and her husband have no other means than their crops to live on. All their hopes for a good harvest, however, were wiped out by the three floods. "Though we are lucky enough to have our house intact, we have nothing to eat," she said.

She said that before the distribution, she had not heard of the Red Cross, but from now on, "I will remember it."

For subsistence farmers, necessities can be regarded as luxuries. Recognising this, the RCSC and the Federation designed family packages to meet the most urgent and basic needs of those affected by floods This frees up whatever remains of their personal savings to be used to satisfy their varying individual needs such as repairing their homes, replanting crops or replacing household items and clothing that have been damaged.

Malaria may be a constant worry in this area, but as one villager said, "who could ever buy mosquito repellent or nets if they can barely afford their food?"

"The problem is," Wu Jinhua, shyly confessed, "I don't even know how to set up a mosquito net, because I've never used one all my life."