West Bengal Floods Situation Report 27 Sep 2000
Torrential rains since early on Sunday 17 September have caused a massive flooding in West Bengal, the worst in decades. All major rivers and their tributaries are flowing well above danger levels. Water has also been released from several dams and barrages, contributing to the situation. Worst hit districts are in the centre of the state: Birbhum, Murshidabad, Burdwan, Nadia and Malda. The BBC are reporting more than 400 dead, 200 missing, and more than 15 million people homeless. Food riots are reported to have broken out in temporary camps. Oxfam's team in Calcutta says the main relief problem is lack of drinking water as the high flood level has inundated water sources. To prevent the outbreak of water borne diseases, Oxfam will be providing purification tablets, oral rehydration salts and water containers. Also shelter materials, temporary latrines, and disinfecting of wells.
Oxfam has been working in India since 1951. Oxfam's River Basin Programme was established in May 1999, and focuses on the riverine areas of Nepal, Bangladesh and NE India. This includes helping communities to deal with disasters, providing flood relief, helping people to find ways of earning a living, and encouraging people to speak out in order to change public policies that affect their lives.
In West Bengal, Oxfam works through a partner organization, the Rural Health Development Centre. They're looking at co-operating with other organizations like the Lutheran World Fellowship, Care and Unicef to respond to the immediate crisis. Oxfam has been distributing food but had to stop because of rains: they simply can't get to places. Air-dropping of food hasn't been effective because there isn't enough dry land for it to fall on. Oxfam and its partners are doing assessments. They will all meet on 28 September to consider reports and decide how to proceed. Oxfam have a health advisor and water and sanitation person on the ground. Along with the local teams, they are reaching as many places as they can to establish what people need most.
Oxfam is currently considering a much bigger programme in the region which would include projects like: food distribution, food for work, seeds, yarn, fishing nets, boats, building elevated platforms, latrines in camps, new wells and repair of existing wells, basic medicines for livestock, temporary shelter, health and hygiene promotion.