Situation Report from India: Responding to Devastating Floods

Jennifer Poidatz, CRS India country representative, amid a gathering of Indian women. Photo by CRS India staff.

A situation report on the flooding resulting from monsoon rains in South Asia from Jennifer Poidatz, CRS India country representative

Since early July the monsoon rains in India and neighboring countries have left a trail of death and destruction. In most of the 28 states, rivers have overflowed their banks, crops have been washed away, bridges are down and houses have collapsed. Schools serve as emergency shelter instead of to classrooms, while children play in floodwaters unaware of the danger of disease. Water pumps may still be working, but the water that comes out is unsafe for drinking.

Victims of the flooding move to higher ground. Photo by Caritas India.

Working with our local partners, CRS has been carrying out relief operations in five states, from Andhra Pradesh in the south to Orissa on the eastern coast. In affected villages, families receive emergency medical care, plastic sheeting to cover damaged sections of their homes and filters to make water safe for cooking and drinking. These responses almost seem routine as most of these villages are affected by floods every year. The government is providing the majority of the rescue and relief services, working in close collaboration with local and international organizations, to meet all needs and minimize suffering.

However, due to continuous rains in the north and northeastern parts of the country, as well as in neighboring Nepal, the routine response is no longer adequate. The floods have now ravaged more than 80 percent of the northern half of the state of Bihar, which borders Nepal. An estimated 1 million people in the northeastern state of Assam have sought relief after days of relentless rain. Entire districts are marooned with people unable to reach emergency shelters. In other areas, families have found safety on the railroad tracks and wait patiently for food packs to be dropped by government helicopters — their only source of relief until they can be reached by rescue teams, or floodwaters reside.

People displaced by the flooding take shelter in a makeshift camp. Photo by Caritas India.

The response requires more than the usual routine relief as the populations are spread out across entire states. The government response, albeit focused and committed, is not able to reach out to all those who need assistance. NGOs, working with local partners, need to have the resources to do what we do best: respond immediately in coordination with all to fill the gaps and minimize loss of lives and livelihoods. Demonstrating that government does need help, CRS’ local partners have received written communication and instructions through coordination meetings to provide assistance. They are overwhelmed and, reversing the roles, India is “outsourcing” part of the response to local NGOs and INGOs. We need to respond immediately.

Adding to the urgency of the response, both of these states [Bihar and Assam] rank among the lowest in terms of socioeconomic indicators. The floods are taking the lives and livelihoods of populations that are already vulnerable and who have limited assets or coping mechanisms to fall back on. They are likely to include many of those who live below the poverty line, who survive on a meager daily wage that is likely to be lost now that the crops they were tending have been washed away. These are areas where malaria is endemic and the health infrastructure is limited. In Assam, livelihood opportunities and public infrastructure are hampered by frequent incidents of insecurity. This is not “India Shining.”

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One Response to “Situation Report from India: Responding to Devastating Floods”

  1. Preparation Is Half The Battle | Voices of CRS Says:

    […] during a mock disaster drill. During the annual rainy season, areas of Orissa experience massive- and often deadly- flooding. Chhatisdebil is one of 75 villages along Orissa’s highly vulnerable coast. The […]

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