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Monsoon rains cause misery for over 16 million South Asians

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A staggering 16 million people have now been affected by flooding caused by heavy and sustained monsoon rains falling across South Asia. The floods have caused massive displacement of populations across Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal abd brought widespread destruction to homes, livelihoods and agricultural cropland.

According to the government in Pakistan, five million people have been directly affected by floods which have struck areas across most of the country. During the last month sustained rainfall caused flooding in 20 out of 23 regions in the southern district of Sindh alone, while areas of Eastern Baluchistan and Punjab Provinces have also been badly hit. Close to a million homes have been damaged or destroyed and the current disaster has left thousands without food and shelter. Over 140,000 displaced people are now living in temporary relief camps and the numbers are rising.

In response to the worsening situation, the IFRC has launched a preliminary emergency appeal for 10.6 million Swiss francs (USD 12 million) to assist 105,000 people in five of the worst affected districts of Sindh. The appeal will fund the Pakistan Red Crescent Society relief operation which aims to help families through the next four months with distributions of food rations and other relief items together with emergency health care and water and sanitation support.

Lucky escape

Floods and lost crops are not new to the Panhyar family who come from Khairpur in Sindh. Saifal Panhyar, a farmer, and his family were lucky to escape as their four-room house was destroyed when its walls collapsed when the floods engulfed his village. The village was just beginning to recover from the effects of last year’s devastating floods before it was hit once again. Today, Khairpur is under five feet of water and the floods have destroyed acres of ready-to-cut cotton crops. The roads and streets are impassable and it’s almost impossible to reach neighbouring villages.

“Our land is our sole source of income and the crops were just ready to be harvested but the continuous rain and now the flood water has badly damaged them.” Panhyar says.

Local people lack clean drinking water and Panhyar’s wife and teenaged brother both got malaria due to the unhygienic conditions in the area.

“We cannot fail these communities”, says Senator Nilofer Bhaktiar, chairwoman of the Pakistan Red Crescent, “For the past year we have struggled to help thousands to recover from the 2010 floods. Just as their crops were ready to harvest, the floods have come again and literally taken the food from their mouths”.

More rain to come in India

Heavy rains have also deluged many States throughout India, causing severe flooding which has resulted in large-scale population displacement in the north-eastern state of Assam and the northern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as well as in Punjab and West Bengal. Entire communities remain marooned in some areas as flood waters have made it almost impossible for search and rescue teams to reach them.

Current government figures estimate that over 300 people have been killed and 8.6 million people have been affected across five States since the start of monsoon season.

“The numbers of people affected have doubled in just a few weeks and there is more rain to come”,

says John Roche, country representative for the IFRC in India. “Thousands have lost homes and livelihoods leaving many wage-earners with no choice but to migrate to nearby towns to find work“.

The Indian Red Cross Society has launched a domestic appeal for 176 million Indian rupees (approx. 3.3 million Swiss francs or USD 3.8 million) and is aiming to assist 250,000 people (50, 000 families) across Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh with emergency shelter, non-food relief and clean water.

The monsoon has also caused havoc downstream in Bangladesh rains where several major rivers have burst their banks. The floods engulfed vast areas spanning the length and breadth of the country, causing misery for over 1.5 million people. The IFRC launched a 1.3 million Swiss franc (USD 1.26 million) emergency appeal to support the relief efforts of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society who are targeting relief at 50,000 people.

Nepal too has suffered this year. This year’s monsoon rains triggered several flash floods affecting more than 2,600 families and claiming 90 lives, with 40 people reported missing. The Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) has responded in all the affected districts through its local level networks of volunteers and staff.

Investing in community resilience

“The scale and severity of flooding that South Asia is currently experiencing coupled with the underlying poverty and vulnerability of this region mean that more people are simply unable to cope with the effects of such disasters,” says Pete Garratt IFRC Regional Disaster Management Coordinator in South Asia, adding, “the numbers of people affected indicate that the preparedness and mitigation measures taken by countries have had limited reach so far - more can and must be done if we are to build community resilience to such disasters.”