Orissa floods: emergency aid for vulnerable families

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During the month of September, major flooding struck the Orissa region in northeast India on two separate occasions. On September 9, following torrential rainfall, the Hirakud dam was forced to open 59 of its 64 gates, flooding 14 of the 30 districts of Orissa. Less than a week later, on September 16, the Baitarani, Subarnarekha, Brahmani and Budhabalanga rivers burst their banks, hitting the districts of Jajpur, Kendrapara and Bhadrak particularly hard. Thirty-eight people have died in these floods.

In coordination with other local and international humanitarian organizations present in the field, Handicap International has responded to this crisis by distributing essential items to the local population (shelters, mosquito nets, soap, sheets, blankets, cooking equipment, etc.). Handicap International will be responsible for helping more than 750 families identified as being particularly vulnerable. Five hundred packs have already been distributed.

One hundred and eighty volunteers are also raising awareness of health and hygiene issues among the local population in order to reduce the risk of disease and epidemics in the flooded areas. Lastly, 150 community volunteers have been trained in accessibility and inclusion issues affecting the most vulnerable individuals.

The organization has been working in the Orissa region since 2009, through its risk prevention projects. These projects are supported by the Disaster Preparedness Program run by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department (DIPECHO). The aim is to reduce the impact of natural disasters on the local population by taking into account the most vulnerable individuals, including people with disabilities.

“The importance of Handicap International's previous work is now obvious,” explains Handicap International's India Desk Officer, Bindya Vachhani.

“Raising the awareness of other NGOs and the government has significantly improved the case-management of people with disabilities. We ensured (that) local communities were fully involved in identifying vulnerable individuals, enabling us to work hand in hand with inhabitants affected by the disaster. In a situation like this, the capacity to obtain information from the population quickly, and the possibility of coordinating our operations with the government's actions is essential. Orissa is a poor region that is regularly hit by flooding. If we want to develop a sustainable solution to this problem, it is essential to develop effective response mechanisms involving the local population as much as possible.”

A resident of Subala, a small village in the Orissa Province, in northeast India, says that the September floods are the worst she has ever seen. “During the floods of 1982, our village was totally cut off for several days; but this time, the water level was so high that the whole village was flooded, except for the road through the village, which is on a slope,” Satyananda Swain said. “If it had been flooded too, we would have had nowhere to go. It's worrying.”