This year’s monsoon season has been a harsh one across south Asia, with severe flooding affecting four countries. In India, more than 10 million people in Assam, Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal have been affected, hundreds of lives have been lost, and over 122,000 homes have been destroyed.
The Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) was swift to take action in response to this disaster. Through its state and district branches, the society has launched a domestic appeal for 176 million Indian rupees (approx. 3.3 million Swiss francs or 3.8 million US dollars) to assist people in the worst affected areas.
In Bihar, the impact of this flooding will be felt for months; with so much farm land flooded, there is little work, and many are already planning to leave their villages and head to cities and towns to try to make a living to support their families. Others however, are fearful of leaving their families behind, many now homeless, in case the waters rise again.
Mr. Balu Rai’s family of seven is from ward 13 of Raghavpur in Bihar. He makes his living by pulling a cart in Patna. “I sleep on the cart as I don’t have any home in Patna. My family stays here. When the river rose, we lost everything,” he said. “I am the only earning member of the family. I do not feel safe to leave my family here and go back to Patna for work.”
In Balu’s ward, 80 homes were destroyed on 27 August in just 30 minutes by the rising river. The IRCS has provided tarpaulin sheets to families who have lost their homes because of this erosion. In the affected states, over 63,000 homes have been destroyed, and more than twice this number damaged. Over 2,700 villages have been swamped by flooding in recent weeks in Uttar Pradesh alone, and thousands are living under plastic sheeting.
Many areas remain under water and are likely to remain so for days to come. With the receding waters however, there will be increased likelihood of waterborne diseases due to contamination, and unsafe open sewers. IRCS volunteers have already distributed hundreds of thousands of water purification tablets, as well as providing information to communities on hygiene issues to try to prevent the spread of disease.
Dr. S.P. Agarwal, Secretary General of the IRCS, said: “We have to try to reach the maximum number of people, focusing on those most severely affected. We are lucky to have so many strong branches and committed volunteers in these regions.”
Based on its field assessments, the IRCS intends to address the needs of 250,000 people (50,000 households) for a period of six months, providing temporary emergency shelter, distribution of essential household items, securing safe drinking water for affected communities and distribution of mosquito nets. The families selected are those with the greatest needs, such as those whose homes have been destroyed, families headed by women, and those from socially marginalized groups.
Monsoon flooding in India may be an annual occurrence, but for those who have been left with nothing this year, familiarity offer little comfort. In communities which are already poor, families who lose what little they have need the maximum support.