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Health Crisis Looms Over Flood-Wracked South Asia; Children Most Vulnerable

( [email protected] ) Aug 09, 2007 11:15 AM EDT
South Asia's ruinous flood, which have affected millions and forced many to become homeless, is becoming a greater health concern as the threat of waterborne continues to rise.
Children affected by the flood wait to collect relief goods at a distribution centre in Chandirchar, 86km (54 miles) from Dhaka August 7, 2007. Hungry victims of South Asia's worst flooding in years complained on Tuesday that help was yet to reach them, while in some villages local politicians and officials were caught stealing from meagre stocks of food. (Photo: REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman BANGLADESH)

NEW DELHI – South Asia's ruinous flood, which have affected millions and forced many to become homeless, is becoming a greater health concern as the threat of waterborne continues to rise.

In the eastern Indian state of Assam, where up to 3 million people took refuge in emergency camps, receding waters and surging temperatures incited greater fears and concerns over disease outbreaks.

"We are really worried about the outbreak of an epidemic in Assam now," said Tarun Gogoi, chief minister of Assam.

The U.N. Children's Fund warned in a statement that children are especially vulnerable to the "looming health crisis."

"Entire villages are days away from a health crisis if people are not reached in the coming days," Marzio Babille, UNICEF's health chief in India, said in the statement. "Children, who make up 40 percent of South Asia’s population, are particularly susceptible."

Although it did not give a specific total, UNICEF said millions of children were likely to be affected. In Bihar, India's worst-hit state, the agency said stagnant waters had put about 11 million people, including 1.5 million children, at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.

Nationwide, India’s death toll had risen above 1,000 by the end of last week and the floods have affected 35 million people, according to the Indian government.

Elevated highways, railways tracks and field embankments were crowded with people seeking safety as the floodwaters increased. Although monsoon season in South Asia is a normal, annual event that always carries threats of flooding, this year much of eastern India and two-thirds of Bangladesh have been submerged.

The United Nations has described the flood situation in India and Bangladesh as "the worst in living memory."

Meanwhile, UNICEF's Babille, who is coordinating U.N work in Bihar, said aid agencies and authorities “must do more to prevent outbreaks of measles, gastroenteritis, dengue fever and other diseases, or we will see many deaths."

World Vision, one of the world’s largest Christian humanitarian organizations, has partnered with the Bangladesh government over the past several days to distribute urgent relief items to communities affected by the floods.

Other Christian organizations like Tearfund, Christian Aid, Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR), Canadian Food for the Hunger International and their partners in various states and regions are also trying their best to reach to the victims.

A local NGO, which was distributing relief, reported that dozens of women, including children, were fighting over small packets of biscuits.

"Some of us were beaten up by the villagers," said an official for the NGO.

Meanwhile, Indian air force helicopter pilots – which have been making 12 trips a day to drop medicine, food, and clothing to the 10 million affected in Bihar – have reported “huge devastation” in central and north Bihar, according to Ramesh Das, a Defense Ministry spokesman in Kolkata.

The Indian Government says more than 1,100 people have died in this year's monsoon, excluding the latest casualties.

Christian Post correspondents Bei Chatlai Beita and Dibin Samuel in New Delhi contributed to this article.