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Aid agencies unite to help victims of south-Asian floods

09 August 2007

by Rachel Harden

Dehydrated: hundreds were admitted to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh after drinking polluted water PAVEL RAHMAN/PA

Dehydrated: hundreds were admitted to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh after drinking polluted water PAVEL RAHM...

AID AGENCIES said this week that they were struggling to cope with the estimated 28 million people made homeless by the floods in south-east Asia. The UN warned on Wednesday that the whole area would face a health crisis if relief work were not stepped up.

The impact has been most severe on India. More than 12 million people there were made homeless after the heaviest rains for 30 years. Areas of Bangladesh and Nepal have also been devastated.

Tearfund described this week how it was working with its partners in all three countries to prevent further loss of life; nearly 300 people so far are believed to have died.

In the Indian state of Bihar, the worst-affected area, many of the roads and bridges were impassable. Government ministers were due to visit the region on Tuesday.

Tearfund’s regional adviser in India, Prince David, described how towns in the Darbhanga district in Bihar state were submerged under five feet of water.

The Discipleship Centre (DC), Tearfund’s partner agency, has been distributing emergency food relief to some 2500 families in the region. The Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) has distributed relief kits to families in the East Champaran district, as well as in Bihar, where 70,000 homes have been submerged or washed away.

Tearfund’s head of region for Asia, Sudarshan Sathianathan, said on Tuesday: “We support villagers as they go through the basics of disaster preparedness and response. They have been able to develop communication networks that provide warnings for evacuation to higher ground, and means to strengthen their homes and livelihoods. These are measures that can save lives.”

Christian Aid has launched an appeal for the flood victims, and is distributing emergency food rations to stranded people in Bihar.

“This level of constant rainfall in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states is unprecedented. We have never witnessed this before,” said Anand Kumar, from the Christian Aid office in India.

The Roman Catholic aid agency CAFOD is sending aid to its partners in India and Bangladesh. A CAFOD report on Monday estimated that in Bangladesh alone, almost five million people have been affected by the floods

CAFOD’s head of international programmes in Asia, Pauline Taylor-McKeown, said: “The extent and severity of the floods in south Asia is extremely worrying.

“We are responding to appeals for help from our partners in the countries affected. It is clear that millions have been affected, many of them losing their homes. Work is just beginning, and it is clear recovery will take a long time.”

Mary Marsh, the general secretary of the Oxford Mission, which works in both Bangladesh and India, said on Wednesday that one of its centres in Bangladesh had been badly affected: “I spoke to Mother Susila this morning, and she said the floods had affected all the crops, but that other regions had been more badly affected. But there were concerns about the very high levels of the local river.”

On Tuesday, UNICEF spoke of the vulnerability of the millions of children in the region, who make up 40 per cent of the population of south-east Asia. “Entire villages are days away from a health crisis if people are not reached in the coming days,” said Dr Marzio Babille, UNICEF’s health chief in India.

“Many of the affected areas are home to poor communities who suffer from lack of sanitation and hygiene all year round. Stagnant waters left by the floods are a lethal breeding ground for disease: children are particularly susceptible.”





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