India floods update 27 Sep 2005

News and Press Release
Originally published
Monsoons and heavy rain in Western India has resulted in unprecedented floods and landslides in the states of Gujarat (June/July 2005) and Maharashtra (July 2005). Flood waters cut off transport routes, communication and power supplies, and have inundated and destroyed homes, destroyed crops and livelihoods, affecting millions in rural and urban areas. Mumbai is especially hard-hit. Deaths from India's heaviest rainfall on record have already killed over 800 people.
The floods in Gujarat forced 5 million people from their homes, and affected up to 20 million people across the state, when annual rainfall was received just in 3 days over 90% of the state. While the flood waters are now receding, and many people are returning home, thousands of homes have been destroyed. Our partners state that 1500 villages have been severely damaged, and the loss of cattle and damage to agriculture and industrial units is widespread and unprecedented.

The floods in the Maharashtra region of India have caused widespread devastation. Millions of people have been affected, and tens of thousands have lost their homes. The floodwaters are being contaminated with dead animals and raw sewerage from damaged sewerage systems and less than adequate sanitation. The water is not safe to wade in let alone drink, yet there are very few sources of potable water and the population is forced to make grim choices.

The whole scenario increases the likelihood of outbreaks of water-borne diseases that may rapidly turn into epidemics of preventable diseases that may cost thousands of lives. Children of course are the most vulnerable. Already there are a large number of cases of dysentery, diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis and fevers, with thousands of people being admitted to hospital, and reports that several hundred people have already died from such illnesses.

The rains have washed away the recently planted rice fields and destroyed thousands of simple mud homes. The destruction of more modest agriculture practised by the poor farmers has been swept away, and for those who depend on the small farmers for their livelihood - the itinerant labourers, the tribal communities and the landless poor - the impact is life threatening.

What Oxfam is doing

Oxfam partners are working in numerous affected areas, and reports are currently being received from assessment teams. The long-standing presence of Oxfam and our many partners means we have been able to assess the situation quickly.

To date, Oxfam Australia has provided nearly $100,000 from our International Crisis Fund to support our partners in Gujarat and Maharashtra to undertake immediate relief work. This includes supplying food grains, blankets, plastic sheets, house repair material, kerosene and utensils. Two Australian staff members have been deployed to assist our field office and partners coordinate this large response program, work on public health aspects of the program and develop the longer term rehabilitation plans in conjunction with field staff, partners and the community.

While these programs are still in the development phase, it is likely that Oxfam and its partners longer term programs will include:

- Provision of adequate quantities of clean water in affected/contaminated areas

- Public health promotion and community mobilisation. This will be a vital aspect of our programing, ensuring that people are able to maintain hygiene practices in these difficult situation, to prevent the spread of water-borne disease

- Provision of hygiene kits, including items such as soap, clean water containers and women's hygiene needs

- Repairs of water and sanitation systems

- Community based malaria and dengue control

- Seeds and tools programmes for re-establishing damaged agricultural systems

- Distribution of cooking kits

- Livestock re-stocking, and fodder provision

Oxfam Australia is coordinating this response on behalf of Oxfam International.