Large areas of Assam, West Bengal and Bihar suffered immense devastation last autumn following successive waves of floods. The scale of flooding caused vast displacement of people, totalling some 3 million in Assam; 400,000 in West Bengal and 800,000 in Bihar. The damage to standing crops, stored food and seeds, housing, transport and communication infrastructure and cattle has been tremendous.
Oxfam has sought to target the most vulnerable communities with emergency assistance in order that they may rebuild their lives and livelihoods. A large proportion of Oxfam's flood response programme has already been successfully completed, leaving only a few activities ongoing: health, water and sanitation, and shelter in Bihar, and health, water and sanitation in Assam. The programme is anticipated to be completed by mid-February 1999.
In Bihar the main focus group has been poor landless or marginal farmers who fall within the scheduled caste category. The construction of 318 houses is impending. A refresher health training programme is underway for partner organisations and volunteers. All tube wells have been identified. 4,000 water containers have been procured and transported to Bihar, and distribution will soon be completed. The seeds distribution has finished.
In Assam the scheduled caste community, members of the Mishing and Hajong tribes, children under five, and pregnant and lactating mothers have all been identified as particularly vulnerable. Oxfam has distributed shelter to all beneficiaries, except to those on Majhuli island where security has temporarily lapsed. Health training was given in December and successful and positive feedback was received. A refresher training programme is scheduled for January 1999. Water committees have been established to oversee the implementation of the water programme. Construction work has already started and is expected to finish by the end of January 1999. The seeds distribution and veterinary programme have both been completed, as has distribution of food to 2,636 beneficiaries. With regards livelihood support, yarn and looms are in the process of being obtained and distributed.
Oxfam's more general intervention, which includes provision of clean drinking water, preventive and curative health, and care for cattle, has been applicable to all people in the affected areas.
Uttarakhand is a hilly area of Uttar Pradesh bordering with China and Nepal. Villagers of Baggi village, situated on the banks of Jalkur River in Dunda tehsil, Uttarkashi district, witnessed heavy landslides and ensuing destruction to their homes and cattle-sheds in August 1998. Landslides have been an inherent threat to this district since the severe earthquake in 1991, which created deep fissures in the upper hills. Compounded by the high calcium content in the land such events tend to be disastrous.
Most families of Baggi were initially forced to reside without shelter in their agricultural fields. The village being located at 1,600 metres above sea level and cold winter nights looming meant that temporary shelter was urgently required. Oxfam provided a grant to a local partner organisation, Lok Jeevan Vikas Bharti, to undertake the distribution of galvinised iron sheeting.
On 22 November 1998, Tropical Cyclone 07B hit the Sunderban area of West Bengal, causing widespread destruction of agriculture and shelter, and affecting some 300,000 people. Although loss of life was avoided, many people's livelihoods have been severely hampered by the ravage of agriculture (the paddy crop was at the point of harvest), cash crops, and pisciculture. Furthermore, an estimated 5,780 families lost their homes and 8,755 houses were badly damaged.
A local partner organisation, INSS, with Oxfam's Calcutta office undertook a rapid assessment and identified the most immediate need as being livelihood support and provision of shelter materials. INSS, with the support of Oxfam, will target the lowest income groups: female-headed households, landless families and marginal farmers in this emergency response.