India’s Flood Camps Provide Raw Necessities

The monsoon rains this year have overflowed rivers and their banks, and affected 3 million people in India, and at least 100,000 people in Nepal. With water rushing into villages, people fled to areas of higher ground wherever it could be found. Now, camps of displaced families cover the area, crowded with people trying to create a temporary home for their children.

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Children who have been displaced by the flood each get a stick with a red flag before going on their game to search for areas of open defecation. Photo by CRS staff

CRS is supporting nearly 100,000 people in India and 25,000 in Nepal. Our relief includes food rations; high protein biscuits for women and children; relief kits with plastic tarps for cover, stoves, blankets, mosquito nets, hygiene kits, mattresses, flashlights and batteries. CRS also provided boats for emergency rescue. Health remains of great priority, and our partners on the ground are trained to provide health care in emergency conditions.

We will post updates on life in these camps as time and cross-continental communications allow. The reports, like the first one below, will sometimes be gritty and perhaps unpleasant to read. Our hope is that they relay a sense of what it’s like to live displaced and in dire circumstances following the disaster of this proportion.

Here’s the first one:
In the monsoon-flooded waters in northeastern India, just a couple of hours from the Nepalese border, CRS’ Ross Tomlinson, alongside a large CRS team, is working around the clock in crowded camps helping people set up basic amenities: places to drink water, bathe and use what passes for a restroom.

Sound simple? Not so when whole villages are squeezed onto a four-foot wide flooded embankment with steep drop offs on either side, where communal water has been contaminated by dead livestock, and when the use of latrines is not a familiar custom (in rural, impoverished India, most people defecate in the open).

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The trench is 2 feet deep and, once filled, will be covered in soil while another 2 feet trench is dug parallel to it. Photo by CRS staff

In a phone conversation today about water and sanitation efforts, Ross talked about feces like it was the plotline of the latest blockbuster. He’s animated about the latrines, tube wells and private bathing spaces recently constructed for people displaced and living in these camps … and about their communal efforts to maintain dignity in traumatic conditions, helping to avert disease and further disaster. Here’s a snapshot of what Ross had to say:

“What you see on the embankment is a long line of temporary shelters that are pretty low–about five feet at the most–and which are in different states of construction. Some people have just got a bamboo sheet above the ground; others have built a nicer [transitional] structure even with a patio. It’s like a people magnet in the camps.

There are people everywhere. It’s very hot out here and humid. We’re working from 7 in the morning until 11 or 11:30 at night, trying our best to get out of the midday sun. And, there’s always traffic walking up and down the embankment in front of the houses, lots of cows around, lots of cow feces, and no shade unless you’re under a tarp.

“[To enter the camp], you drive down a little narrow road which has water on either side. The water has been dropping since I’ve been here, which has exposed about seven or eight cow carcasses; the dogs are now eating the carcasses. Water rose up a bit by today.

“If you imagine on this four meter wide embankment, on the left-hand side you have a community and, on the right-hand side, you’ve got wash areas next to the communities. In between them, we’ve got a large area for building latrines. We’re building shallow trench latrines there that will stretch halfway across the embankment. The trenches we’re building are 8 to 10 meters long, 20 centimeters wide, and 2 feet deep. [The community is involved in the concept and building.] It will have an open roof so that sun can come in and help dry down the feces. The idea is that when the 2 ft. trench is is 50% full, they will fill it with soil, then build another trench alongside.

“Men and children will happily bathe at the tube wells in front of someone’s house [the more public spaces], while women prefer the tube wells with more privacy. Our priority first and foremost is helping women to have private, safe spaces for bathing. They are still bathing fully dressed, in their saris.

“Many people are lying around in the day to get out of the heat. There are lots of animals…cows and goats.

“At the moment we have a lot of demand. People are hungry for help. We’re introducing them to our [water and sanitation] infrastructure. Because the groupings at the camps are a mixture of communities, castes and people of different villages, we’re first trying to group people within their distinct communities. People are really conscious of the sanitation issues with regard to open defecation. They’re not normally defecating in such a close proximity to where they’re living. For women, privacy is a big thing; they need somewhere to go at night. Bear in mind that even at home people don’t tend have latrines. One of the communities lives not far from this embankment and comes to this area, where they’re now displaced, to defecate. So now they’re living where they [once came to use the restroom]. What we’re finding is that we’re making contact, we’re talking about this as a problem, and people are very keen to work with us on it.”

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One Response to “India’s Flood Camps Provide Raw Necessities”

  1. Rachmadhi Purwana Says:

    Dear Sirs,
    Please attached another pictures of the camp such as, shelter/housing, food-distribution stall, clinic, etc.) I am writing a book about disaster and environmental health for the University of Indonesia
    Rachmadhi

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