Group: Bigger Crisis in S. Asia Likely without More Post-Flood Support

( [email protected] ) Aug 22, 2007 05:37 AM EDT

Without increased support for the flood-affected communities across South Asia, the post-flood situation could turn into an even greater humanitarian emergency, according to one of the world’s largest international relief and humanitarian organizations.

CARE International further reported Tuesday that unless action is taken immediately against waterborne diseases, a new post-flood humanitarian crisis is likely.

“The immediate threat is from disease due to contaminated water,” the organization reported Tuesday.

Nearly 60,000 people have suffered from acute diarrhea and dysentery since the floods started, CARE noted in its latest report, and thousands of others are suffering from skin diseases and acute respiratory infections.

“As the weather turns colder, respiratory illness will become an increasing threat, especially to those children left without shelter because of the floods,” it added. In Pakistan, Nepal and India, the approaching winter months make shelter a more urgent priority before the winter snows arrive.

The ongoing flood crisis – considered the worst in recent memory in Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – have affected an estimated 48 million people across South Asia, and killed nearly 3,000 at last count. While rains have stopped in some areas, in others they have continued, breaking riverbanks and triggering landslides and exhausting the coping mechanisms usually employed in this disaster-prone region

Members of the global alliance Action by Churches Together International, which have been bringing aid relief and assistance to vast regions of central and south Asia hit by severe flooding, have made the most vulnerable their aid priority, particularly those in out-of-the-way communities.

“When you lose everything it is very hard to recover,” said Sushant Agrawal, the director of Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA). “People have lost their houses and belongings. The standing crops are gone. The flood has destroyed the total source of their livelihood.”

Many families are also struggling to cope amid food shortages.

“We are constantly hungry. I do not have enough food to feed my children,” said Shifa Begam from Jithkar, a village near the Harirampur-district in Bangladesh. With tears in her eyes, she received from the ACT members a large food parcel containing rice, cooking oil, lentils and medicines. ACT members were the only humanitarian support in the village, where they are running a food distribution operation.

According to ACT, the coalition’s operation across the Asian continent will reach 270,000 with food and clean water in the immediate response phase, and housing reconstruction and future risk reduction in the later stages.

In addition to the immediate assistance and rehabilitation work, a key aspect of the planned flood responses by ACT members is to build upon the current coping mechanisms of communities and to reduce their future risks.

Director of Lutheran World Service India, Neville Pradhan, stressed the importance of risk reduction in the later stages of recovery.

“We leave people at the edge again if we do not begin to address the root causes of the disaster and do disaster risk reduction. If we invest in the longer term measures we make people and communities less vulnerable,” he said.

Agrawal, who is also the moderator of the ACT International Executive Committee, appealed to the global church body to unite in its response to the floods.

"The situation is pretty alarming. This is a time when the global church must come together and stand with the poor, socially excluded and most vulnerable.”

Christian aid agencies worldwide – including World Vision, Christian Aid, Tearfund, the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR), the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) and Canadian Food for the Hunger International – and their partners in various Indian states and regions have been collectively working full-fledged in the devastated areas.

Beyond Bangladesh and India, ACT partners are at work China, Nepal and Pakistan distributing essential food and non-food items.

Contributor Maria Mackay in London added to this report.