UNICEF Report on the Drought and Floods in India 28 Sep 2000

from UN Children's Fund
Published on 28 Sep 2000
The severe drought that hit several states in India during the first half of the year was followed by two waves of floods in many parts of the country. While both water scarcity in summer and floods during the monsoon are seasonal phenomena, their recurrence requires a long-term strategy for better water management. It should be emphasised that India is affected by other recurrent natural disasters, such as cyclones, landslides and earthquakes.
The current situation is one of contrasting phenomena: while some states are affected by new floods, others are suffering from the drought.

UNICEF India is incorporating emergency responses in its development assistance. Flood control in some border states requires a cross-border collaboration and should therefore be placed on a full-scale development agenda. UNICEF India's investment in training on disaster management aims to prepare all state and Delhi offices with disaster preparedness plans.

UNICEF has been supporting state governments, such as the Governments of Assam, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Gujarat, in developing their capacity and pre-positioning in emergency response. As a result, the Government of Gujarat recently requested UNICEF's assistance to develop a long-term strategy on water management and drought mitigation. In Assam and West Bengal, following the floods of 1998, UNICEF has been working with state governments to build their capacity in disaster preparedness.

As a result, state governments in natural disaster-prone areas made a beginning in establishing better emergency response mechanisms, both civil and military. UNICEF is also part of the UN Disaster Management Team, one of the most active teams in UNDAF managing inter-agency co-operation in disaster management.

Drought in India

Low rainfall in the last two years coupled with insufficient and irregular rainfall in 1999 had precipitated drought conditions in some states of India during the first six months of 2000. The western states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh had suffered the worst effects of the drought. The drought also affected the states of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.

After a short and insufficient monsoon, the drought has hit the same states again: Orissa, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

In Orissa, the UN House has undertaken a multi-disciplinary assessment of some of the affected areas and their report is awaited. Acute drought-like conditions are reported in the non-irrigated highland areas of tribal western Orissa districts. Five districts are affected by significant crop loss. There are also reports in the press that a large number of people are migrating in search of water and food. The state Government has allocated special funds for flood relief activities.

With 32 districts having received less than normal rainfall during the monsoon, Rajasthan is facing the threat of drought for the third consecutive year. Out of the 32 districts, 16 have not received even half of their average rainfall. Most of the lakes and reservoirs have been filled to only 40% of their capacity. A Government meeting is planned at the state level at the beginning of October to discuss a plan of action.

The Southeastern region of Madhya Pradesh (central India) is facing a drought due to low rainfall. Six districts are particularly affected. The Chief Minister of the state has directed his Government to chalk out an action plan to save surviving crops and bring immediate relief to populations at-risk.

Finally, in the Western state of Gujarat, as many as 98 out of a total of 225 blocks in the state have received less than 50% of the season's expected rainfall. The water level in most of the 174 small and medium dams are still near the bottom, and it is feared that, unless some rains come in September, the stored water may not be enough to carry the state through to the next summer.

During the first drought that affected India at the beginning of the year, UNICEF released immediate assistance through its state offices, but also decided to focus on long-term assistance to help preventing such situations in the future. UNICEF led a joint UN mission in May 2000 to identify long term initiatives. As a result, the Government of Gujarat requested UNICEF to assist in the development of a White Paper on water management policies.

Floods (end of August-September 2000)

Two waves of floods have affected several states in India since last July.

A two-week monsoon deluge in July left 5 million people homeless, hundreds dead or missing and many others susceptible to disease. The most affected states were Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. In addition, the states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh have also weathered the effects of strenuous floods since mid-July.

In Assam and West Bengal, UNICEF has already released additional funds for flood relief as part of accelerated programming. Relief supplies include tarpaulin sheets, blankets, clothes, bleaching powder, ORS and medicines. In Gujarat, where tens of thousands cases of fever, diarrhoea and respiratory infections have been reported, UNICEF responded to an urgent request from the state Government and agreed to provide ORS, chlorine and medicines for children for an amount of US$ 59,000. In anticipation of the flood in Bihar, UNICEF had supported the government in conducting a polio immunisation round at the end of July, as well as the distribution of vitamin A supplement doses to 10 million children.

This first wave of flood was followed by another one at the end of August in Andhra Pradesh and in September in West Bengal.

During the last week of August, the state of Andhra Pradesh (South-east of India) witnessed the highest rainfalls in the past 46 years. The twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, which form the state capital, were inundated by overflowing neighbouring lakes, forcing thousands of people to take refuge on the roofs of their houses or to flee the cities. Great losses of life, crop and property have been reported from other parts of the state. The state Government responded by evacuating several thousands of people, with the help of army personnel and equipment, including helicopters and boats. In the twin cities alone, some 35,000 people have been accommodated in relief camps. Food and other relief items were dropped by helicopters to the affected population.

Following a request from the state Government, the UNICEF State Office provided ORS, chlorine tablets, essential drugs and water supply items. Water has been receding but UNICEF is closely monitoring the situation and regularly meets the state government to review the situation.

In West Bengal, 10 districts out of 17 and the city of Calcutta are suffering from the second flood, which started mid-September, affecting some 17.5 million people. Some 700 people have been reported dead or missing. The flood was both due to heavy rainfalls and large quantities of water being released from reservoirs situated in upper catchment areas. Although the situation has improved since the rains have stopped, thousands of people remain isolated and do not receive relief. Even with the assistance provided by the army, damages to roads and railway linkages prevent rescue operations to reach some areas. People are still stranded on roof tops, trees etc. The state desperately needs more boats to accelerate relief operations. There have been many reports of violent incidents, including looting of trucks carrying food and relief materials.

For map of flood affected districts in West Bengal State:
(non-official UNICEF map, does not imply UN recognition of boundaries or names)

In the state capital Calcutta, the flood started on 26 September with the Hoogly river rising well above the danger mark. Vast areas of the city are inundated. The supply of drinking water is threatened.

The special round of polio immunisation that was conducted in West Bengal (As well as in three other polio-prone states) had to be cancelled in 5 of the most affected district because of their inaccessibility. However, the rest of the state was covered as planned.

The State Government has requested the Central Government to declare the flood in West Bengal as a national calamity. Damage has been estimated at over Rs. 30,000 million (approximately US$ 660 million). The State Government has already spent US$ 16 million.

UNICEF has received the following informal requests from these partners:

  • 8 boats from the State Government;
  • 50,000 ORS packets, 5000 blankets and 200,000 water purifying tablets from the District magistrate of Medinipur district;
  • 25,000 ORS packets, 2500 blankets, 2 tons of bleaching powder and 10,000 tarpaulin sheets from the Burdwan district.
Following the previous request from the Jailpuri district (affected by the first flood wave), UNICEF has provided: 15,000 tarpaulin sheets, 30,000 blankets, 20,000 garment pieces and 15,000 sets of primary school items for children.

The Spanish Committee for UNICEF has agreed to provide US$ 100,000 and AusAid has allocated Aus$ 50,000 to UNICEF to carry out relief operations in West Bengal.

For more information, visit the UNICEF website at http://www.unicef.org/emerg