ACT members respond as new floods hit north eastern states of India

Report
from Action by Churches Together International
Published on 14 Oct 2004
Geneva, October 14, 2004 - Members of the global alliance, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, are stepping up relief operations in India's north eastern states of Assam and West Bengal after a spate of new floods.

Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) and Lutheran World Federation's World Service in India (LWSI) report that the floods caught people living in the region completely by surprise. Hundreds of houses in the Goalpara district were washed away by a wall of water that raged through villages at roof-height after 10:00 p.m. on the evening of October 7, 2004, killing several hundred people. Estimates put those missing at over a thousand.

The flash floods, coming so soon after the floods in August this year, were caused by heavy rains in the Goalpara district (Assam) and Meghalaya State over a period of four days, due to a depression in the Bay of Bengal. With rivers not wide enough to carry such large quantities of water, eleven villages in two blocks of Goalpara (Krishnai and Bolbola) were washed away. The head of LWSI's Disaster Intervention Unit, K. G. Mathaikutty, says that while visiting Krishnai and Bolbola on October 12, the army was still recovering bodies from the Krishnai River. "We could see thousands of cattle carcasses floating in the waterlogged villages of Folonga Gram Panchayat."

Nirmal J. Singh, CASA's Administrative Officer, reports that these floods, the third this season in Assam, have forced tens of thousands of people to take shelter in relief camps. As the floodwaters start receding, authorities and agencies assisting those affected (believed to be more than 800,000) are starting to tally the damage. The number of districts in Assam affected by the flood stand at 14, with more than a thousand villages devastated. So far, it would seem that the loss of life numbers 180 in Assam alone. More than 30,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. The massive losses suffered in livestock and cultivated land have dealt a blow to the region. Large numbers of families, many with up to eight children, have been forced to seek shelter on the verge of National Highway 37. Ninety-five relief camps have been opened in school buildings and other public places. The situation in West Bengal is equally serious, with more than one and a half million people affected. Although the death toll was not as heavy in this region, loss of land (44,770 hectares completely destroyed) and more than 40,000 animals and about 80,000 poultry birds killed or lost will have a serious impact on people's livelihoods.

As the floods happened so suddenly, most of people thought only of saving their lives and not their belongings. This has meant that the majority of those who escaped the floodwater are now without food and are having to make do with only the clothes they were wearing when they fled. Many children have no clothes. As this area of Assam is not flood-prone, people did not have traditional coping methods to rely on, such as boats. Subhash Kalita, the counselor of Folonga Gram Panchayat, who accompanied the LWSI team on their visit to the devastated villages in Assam, said he could remember a similar flash flood happening about fifty years ago. Now in his sixties, he recalls that back then, there had been no warning either, and that most of those who had died had "been sleeping when the floodwater swallowed them". Anwar Hossian, who ferried the team from village to village by boat, said that with the help of a few other people, they had rescued some hundred of people who were clinging precariously to roofs and tree tops. However, no livestock could be saved.

With the level of the water receding as rapidly as it had risen, assessments of people's needs continue as many villages were completely cut off.

The immediate needs of people affected in both Assam and West Bengal by the floods are shelter, livestock, food and some re-establishment of community infrastructure. Rehabilitation activities will be taken up as soon as the floodwater recedes completely.

Both LWSI and CASA have been implementing relief programs in the region.

LWSI has been supplementing government efforts to provide food items to people in six of the relief camps in Assam for the last six days, while also distributing essential clothing items - funded through the open ACT ASIN 43 appeal. Starting their relief on October 9, LWSI has so far distributed rice, dal and salt to people in four shelter camps in the Goalpara district. The number of households to have benefited from this relief totals 170 (1,102 adults and children). Also distributed were blankets and bed sheets to those who had lost all their belongings to the floods. The government has requested that LWSI rehabilitate two villages, a project that would support some 250 families.

CASA has also submitted to the ACT Coordinating Office in Geneva their proposed response to the disaster, which aims at bringing relief to 2,000 families in two districts of Assam and 6,000 families in 3 districts of West Bengal. This will include distributing relief items such as rice, woolen blankets, clothing (saris and dhotis), cloth, kitchen utensils and temporary shelter. The cost of this direct assistance comes to $139,191US. As with LWSI, CASA will implement their relief through ACT appeal ASIN43.

For further information, please contact:

ACT Communications Officer Callie Long (mobile/cell phone +41 79 358 3171)
ACT Press Officer Stephen Padre (mobile/cell phone +41 79 681 1868)

ACT Web Site address: http://www.act-intl.org