India: Floods in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh

from Oxfam
Published on 22 Sep 2000
"We were all asleep when the water entered at 2am at night" said Sarojinamma standing in front of her ruined house "nothing is remaining, all we have is our dress and our bodies-I do not know what to do". Smashed bricks, broken walls, the skeletal remains of houses on which torn, bright drying clothing hung like flags after a battle surrounded us as we spoke. A few yards away the canal, source of the tragedy flowed past in a swollen roar. The slum in which we stood was saturated, yet clean water was in short supply as her tube-well lay partially buried under a layer of silt.
This community in central Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh State had been devastated in late August by three days of continuous rain. This was its highest rainfall in 46 years, peaking when 24 cms of rain fell in 24 hours- equivalent to one half of its annual rainfall. This act of nature combined with urban geography and social structure created the worst local disaster for half a century. At the heart of the city there is a large lake, the Hussain Sagar, the overflow from which is channelled via a canal to the nearby river musi. Poor migrants from villages who came to the city 20 to 30 years ago in search of livelihoods have settled along these waterways and other waste lands in hutments. There are now 1,000 slums in the city. Building and 'beautification' around the lake and encroachment onto the riverbed has diminished the natural flood and rainfall drainage area. This combination of factors has resulted in a human tragedy as massive flooding along the canal resulted in 77 slums being completely washed away.

One slum resident, Yanama, told her story: "when the water came we had to leave - some men helped lift us out of the water, but two girls died in the deluge, we lost everything including all our food ". As she spoke another women, a widow, screamed uncontrollably in despair saying that all her life had been swept away, including all the money she had saved to build a new home. Yanama and her neighbours had not only lost loved ones but all the basic necessities of life; food, clothing, utensils, shelter and clean water.

Yet in spite of their suffering, the spirit of the people was still strong and their desire to rebuild their lives was impressive as they sought to recover what they could. Local organisations had pitched in to help including hotels, women's and youth groups who were cooking food in the streets and handing out clothing. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh also visited the slums to promise help. More was needed and Oxfam, which has an office in the city, acted and is now working with its local partner NGO's to co-ordinate the relief and rehabilitation programme. They called everyone together and formed 'The Hyderabad Flood Relief Co-ordination Committee'. 4000 families in the slums have been identified as the most needy for immediate relief in terms of supply of food, utensils clothing and bed sheets Special attention is being taken to help lactating mothers and children.

Oxfam's is also looking to the long term by continuing its work with local partners The Confederation of Voluntary Organisations (COVA) who work on projects to promote communal harmony between cultural traditions in the city and the Campaign for Housing and Tenorial rights (CHATRI, umbrella in Urdu). CHATRI is affiliated to the Indian national campaign for housing rights and seeks to uphold UN conventions on the right to housing. Slum housing is often a contentious issue in Hyderabad where only 60% of tenure is legally held and even then tenants are liable to eviction as development schemes or 'beautification' projects envelope their neighbourhoods. Residents are reluctant to leave their ruined house in case they loose their tenorial rights. CHATRI is working with them to help stop evictions, to protect their legal rights and to ensure their needs for shelter will be addressed.

The problems of the capital are of great concern, but monsoon rains have also affected rural and coastal areas to the East and South of the city. Thousands of communities have been affected with crops, roads, houses destroyed and livestock lost. Oxfam's long term rural development programmes and their partners are now assisting in this emergency. In Andhra Pradesh Oxfam is providing practical help and is working with our development partners to build sustainable communities able to face future challenges. Sarojinamma needs our immediate help but we will also seek to ensure that her right to live in a decent house is upheld.