By Caroline Brennan and Kai T. Hill
August 17, 2007, New Delhi - With torrential rainfall expected to continue through September, CRS and partners remain on the ground providing lifesaving relief in regions of India, southern Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
After weeks of massive flooding, more than 30 million people are displaced and need basic supplies. Last week, the agency committed $5 million to the flood crisis, which in India has severely impacted some of the world's most poor and vulnerable people.
"The people whose lives have been turned upside down are typically, even in good times, the forgotten ones - the marginalized, the ones who few people look out for," says Jennifer Poidatz, CRS India country representative, from Delhi. "To have the support of people around the world is transformative on the ground. It translates to people getting clean drinking water, food for their children, dry and safe shelter, and a better chance that they will overcome this disaster without a long-term, devastating impact."
In India alone, millions of residents, many of whom were severely impoverished prior to the floods, are now displaced and need basic survival supplies, including food, clean water, shelter, cooking tools and sanitation supplies.
In Bihar, India - an area already plagued by malnutrition - it is reported that 11 million people are affected, including 1.6 million children under 5 years old. An estimated 400,000 of them are considered especially vulnerable.
"The state of Bihar ranks among the lowest in terms of socioeconomic indicators. Already people are vulnerable, without safety nets. In the best of times, they survive on a meager daily wage - income that is likely lost now that the crops they were tending have been washed away," Poidatz says.
In response, CRS is distributing 200 metric tons of high-energy fortified milk biscuits for distribution to 400,000 women and children in Bihar. CRS is providing a 10-day ration of prepared biscuits to thousands of families that have no access to cooking facilities or fuel. The food - which will fill as many as 15 large trucks - was transported to Bihar from nearby states and distributed on the ground in coordination with UNICEF, the local government, and Caritas India.
Our Response Across the Region
Across India, CRS has been working with local partners and the government to carry out relief operations in five states - including Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Over the past month, CRS has reached more than 50,000 families with emergency medical care, plastic sheeting to cover damaged sections of their homes, food, and water filters for safe cooking and drinking.
Another distribution to be carried out this week will be in the northeast state of Assam, where CRS will distribute 22.5 metric tons of food, providing a 15-day ration for nearly 1,000 families across 23 villages. Over the past several days in Assam, CRS has distributed 1,641 water filters and 1,817 mosquito nets.
In 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. Floodwaters have destroyed or heavily damaged houses, crops and food stocks, and left many farm animals dead. CRS' partner has distributed immediate emergency relief to several thousand families in four districts, and staff and partners are carrying out assessments 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 motorbike, 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," says Cassie Dummett, CRS' emergency technical advisor on the ground in Nepal.
In Bangladesh more than half of the country's districts (40 out of 64) are flooded and in need of relief. CRS' partner, Caritas Bangladesh, distributed food to 7,500 families so far, and continue to carry out assessments in the most heavily affected areas, paying special attention to issues of clean water and threat of waterborne disease " common dangers during floods due to water runoff and contamination of wells, ponds and other water sources.
In Pakistan, given our history and partnerships, CRS was among the first to respond in the hardest-hit provinces of Balochistan and Sindh, both of which suffered the worst damage and flooding seen in over a decade. The disaster posed enormous logistical challenges with regard to access and transportation of materials. However, as an initial response, CRS and partners served over 5,200 households with basic emergency relief supplies including cooking utensils, plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and household water-filtration systems.
With the use of an additional $800,000 grant from the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, CRS has targeted just over 16,000 vulnerable families for shelter, cash-for-work, potable water and sanitation supplies to help reduce the risk of disease outbreak.
Caroline Brennan is South Asia regional information officer for Catholic Relief Services. She has reported on CRS activities for the Pakistan earthquake, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Darfur crisis, and postwar development in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan, among others. Caroline is based in New Delhi, India. Kai T. Hill is an associate web producer with CRS. She works in the Baltimore office.