India

Making communities stronger against flooding where it matters most

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Every year, riverine and coastal areas of West Bengal state in Eastern India are flooded during this year’s monsoon; thousands of people lose their homes and personal items, as well as their already meager sources of income. 2011 was no exception. Heavy rainfall and flooding affected millions throughout West Bengal starting in June. By September, floods affected over 3 million people in 15 districts. ACTED is not only working with affected communities to help them rebuild their lives, but also works in these high-risk regions to build resilience against disasters and to strengthen local people’s ability to mitigate the inevitable floods which will strike again in 2012.

KOLKATA [ACTED News] - Throughout the summer of 2011, the Bay of Bengal received heavy rainfall as well as water from the release of a dam upstream, resulting in floods in the state of West Bengal: 233,774 houses were damaged, almost 20% of those houses were fully destroyed, and 560,972 hectares of agricultural land were flooded, totaling millions of Euros in damages for already much strained populations.

Humanitarian actors organized immediate interventions, including the distribution of tarpaulin sheets for families to set up temporary shelter, food and water and non-food relief item. However beyond the first weeks of the response, affected households were left to pick up the pieces of their lives: as flood waters receded and people began returning to their homes, serious water and health issues, shelter and livelihood concerns began to emerge, as well as the obvious needs for strengthening the disaster preparedness capacity of the communities and government.

Within this context, ACTED has begun a 6-month project to assist flood-affected households in West Bengal State, providing access to immediate cash through cash for work and nutritional support to the most vulnerable families, while also addressing the water and sanitation needs of affected communities, with the financial support of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department.

Protection and prevention

Flooding is a common event in these areas, with more or less regular, annual monsoon flooding. Some areas have even been flooded 15 times in the last 8 years. Given the inevitability of future, severe disasters in the region, which is flood, drought, cyclone and earthquake prone, the resilience of local communities needs to be strengthened through easily implemented techniques. Such include the elevation of tube well platforms above the high flood level which will defend them against any contamination during flooding; the distribution of vegetable seed varieties which are better able to withstand water logging and training on kitchen garden cultivation techniques which utilize baskets and roof space to grow vegetables above flood levels.

Indeed, disaster risk reduction (DRR) is an integral part of ACTED’s intervention in West Bengal, with much impact on the capacity of regularly-affected communities to withstand future natural catastrophes. Whether it be emergency response, rehabilitation or development programming, ACTED India ensures a DRR perspective is taken across our sectors of intervention and programme planning. While regionally and nationally this makes good sense, it is at the local level, working with communities in high risk riverine and delta areas that we can see the real benefits of integrating DRR, as a way to mitigate future disasters.

In addition to the DRR activities which are implemented as part of food, shelter, water, sanitation and health, and livelihoods interventions, ACTED organizes regular DRR events aimed at promoting DRR techniques and benefits to different audiences. In November, 2011 a community DRR fair was organized in the heart of the Sunderbans (in Nebukhali village) to demonstrate simple and practical DRR techniques among local villagers so families can be better prepared for disasters. These events are also the means to disseminate simple disaster-resistant construction techniques to be replicated locally when building shelters of latrines. Stalls, theatre shows, lectures and small-scale models can drive the attention of hundreds of people to the relevancy of focus on disaster risk reduction, despite the seriousness of the topic.

Other sessions are dedicated for professionals-only, such as West Bengal state-level 3 day DRR training attended by 22 local, national and international NGOs working in the state along with representatives of ACTED and of our implementing partner’s, ADRA India. Huge range of topics are covered – from DRR concepts to the structure of the Disaster Management Authority – to strengthen the ability of NGOs to mainstream DRR into all phases and sectors of programming.