India

Caritas reaches out to victims in flood-ravaged India

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Vatican City, 3 August 2005 - Caritas India and other Caritas Internationalis (CI) members are working to bring emergency relief aid in the form of food, clean water, and medicines to thousands of people affected by flooding and landslides in the western Indian state of Maharashtra - home to Mumbai, the country's financial hub. Caritas India and CI member, Catholic Relief Services (CRS)-Maharashtra, report that continued rainfall has made relief and clean-up operations difficult, and that serious concerns about epidemic outbreaks have surfaced.

Heavy monsoon rains have pounded much of the state since last week, unleashing large-scale destruction and bringing activity in Mumbai - where levels of rainfall for a single day set a record high - to a temporary standstill,. Nearly 1,000 people have died from drowning, landslides, and electrocution, with more than half the casualties in Mumbai alone. The death toll could climb as many people are still reported missing. The flooding has wreaked havoc on transportation, forcing the cancellation of flights and train travel and closing down main roads, and has caused extensive damage to crops and livestock. Communication lines were downed last week, and Caritas reports that power supplies and telephone networks have still not been restored in many suburban areas of Mumbai and Thane.

The loss of property is widespread, as many families have seen their entire belongings swept away by floodwaters or buried under mud. The poorest areas in Mumbai, where hundreds of thousands of people live, have been particularly hard hit. The Indian government has called on its country's armed forces to carry out search and rescue operations and to assist in evacuating people to safer locations. Various agencies have also begun working with the government to distribute food, water, and medicines to needy families, and food packages have been air dropped in areas that are inaccessible.

At the outset of the disaster, Caritas India, CRS-Maharashtra, and partners immediately swung into action to conduct needs assessments and to bring crucial emergency relief to flood and landslide victims. Teams of volunteers, mobilised through links with the Niramalaniketan College of Social Work, are working in the affected areas of Raigarh, Ratnagiri, Mumbai, and Thane. Community kitchens have been set up and dry rations distributed to an estimated 40,000 vulnerable families in Mumbai and Raigarh.

The relief operations are part of a three-pronged programme elaborated by Caritas India and CRS that will also deal with intermediate rehabilitation needs so families can return home and resume their normal lives and livelihoods, and long-term disaster preparedness issues. The programme will be operational in the archdiocese of Mumbai and the dioceses of Kalyan and Pune, and will encourage strong community involvement. In addition to the work being carried out now, Caritas and CRS have proposed increasing the distribution of dry rations to 15 days to complement government food packages and providing families who have lost everything with kitchen kits, and tarpaulins and bamboo for temporary shelter. They have also proposed the setting up of medical camps to offer health care and provide medicines to around 1,500 people per camp.

Caritas India and CRS have contacted other NGOs working in the area to avoid duplication, and are making strong efforts to ensure that the response also covers the needs of people living in affected districts outside Mumbai - districts that could possibly get overlooked by relief operations. They are also working to set up links with the government at state and district levels to increase the flow of information and to enable them to target relief aid more effectively. Caritas and CRS are keeping the Confederation abreast of developments and needs with regular situation reports.

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

For more information, contact:

Lynn Yuill, Head of Communications, Caritas Internationalis
Tel: (+39) 06 698 797 43 Email: yuill@caritas.va or editorial.coordinator@caritas.va