India

Dual calamity as floods hit India’s Bihar state amid pandemic

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Flooding has disrupted access to essential services and items, with women and children affected most severely. © UNFPA and Plan International India

BIHAR, India – Life has come to a standstill in much of India’s Bihar State as a ferocious monsoon season coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus cases continue to climb, even as the floods affect millions across the state. “The people in the community were in a state of fear due to COVID-19 and, during the same time, the flood waters entered the village suddenly,” recalled Sri Ramsagar Sahni, a ward member in Muzaffarpur District. “We all left our houses and shifted to the village embankment with our limited belongings.”

Access to services and essential items has been disrupted, with women and children affected most severely.

Floods, income losses affect access to hygiene supplies

A rapid needs assessment by UNFPA partner Plan India showed alarming conditions for many flood-affected communities: displaced families living in cramped temporary shelters with a complete lack of privacy for girls; pregnant women unable to receive regular antenatal care; lavatories submerged under floodwater; seriously limited access to sanitary napkins.

The widespread loss of livelihood has also disrupted access to menstrual hygiene supplies.

“We were not able to purchase basic essential commodities due to non-accessibility to shops as our area was flooded. We also did not have surplus money to invest in personal hygiene and menstrual health,” recalled a woman from Runi Village, in Sitamarhi District.

“My family was not in a position to invest in necessities like sanitary pads,” added Puja, an adolescent girl from Runi.

UNFPA and Plan are working together to provide a gender-sensitive flood response in Sitamarhi and Muzaffarpur, two of the worst-affected districts.

Together, the partners have distributed more than 5,600 dignity kits, which contain supplies necessary to help maintain personal hygiene, including sanitary pads, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and soap.

The volunteers also conducted door-to-door surveys with local health workers. Afterward, they provided a list of pregnant women whose antenatal care had been disrupted to government officials, auxiliary nurse midwives and health centres, facilitating follow-up care.

Counselling and antenatal care were also made available at dignity kit distribution sites.

Looking ahead

A total of 7,000 dignity kits will be provided. Distribution teams are strictly adhering to infection-control protocols, including wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing.

“The items in the kit are very useful to adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers,” said Punita Devi, a community childcare worker in Sitamarhi District.

Today, as the floodwaters recede and people slowly begin to return to their homes, UNFPA and its partners are looking ahead to the communities’ longer-term needs. The double calamity of the natural disaster and pandemic has left marginalized and impoverished groups even more vulnerable.

“Farmers and daily wage labourers were the worst affected as floods had washed away standing crops and COVID-19 had disrupted livelihoods,” explained Radha Devi, the village head in Gaighat, District Muzaffarpur. “Poor people were deprived of well-being and health services and faced food insecurity.”