Christian Aid Groups Persist in Frantic Relief Efforts in South Asia

( [email protected] ) Aug 10, 2007 01:23 PM EDT

Leading Christian aid agencies are continuing their tireless efforts to rush food, drinking water and medicine to help the millions of people forced to flee their homes in India and Bangladesh following the worst flooding there in living memory.

“This level of constant rainfall in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states is unprecedented. We have never witnessed this before,” said Anand Kumar in a report from U.K.-based Christian Aid’s office in India.

“The monsoon season usually starts in late August. But this year we have already had 15 days of sustained rainfall.”

In response, Christian Aid said it would be distributing emergency food rations, water and cooking utensils to stranded people in the Indian state of Bihar, one of the worst hit regions.

World Vision New Zealand, meanwhile, is hoping to raise over $1 million worldwide over the next three months for relief and rehabilitation programs.

Liz MacIntyre, a spokeswoman for World Vision, said they would be asking New Zealanders for more money to support World Vision relief teams already in hardest hit communities in India and Bangladesh.

"We are coordinating efforts with the Inter Agency Group (a coalition of government and aid agencies) and will be providing instant meals immediately," revealed Franklin Joseph, director of Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs for World Vision in India, according to a report.

In Bangladesh, World Vision is working with the government to distribute food and non-food items such as candles, matches and soap to deluged communities in the northern Netrokona district, 159 kilometers north of capital city Dhaka.

In Balasore, a city in India’s Orissa state, World Vision is also providing displaced families with roofing materials and seeds to help farmers recover their livelihoods.

Equipping vulnerable communities to reduce the risk of disaster is key, said U.K.-based Tearfund’s Head of Region for Asia, Sudarshan Sathianathan.

“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.” said Sudarshan in a report.

The Christian aid agency is working in partnership with Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) to distribute relief kits to families in East Champaran district in the state of Bihar which has 10 million people affected by the floods with up to a million camping in the open. An estimated 70,000 homes are submerged or washed away.

Many families have moved to higher ground, living on highways and railway tracks. The EHA is providing food and temporary shelters to communities and distributing water purification tablets, hygiene and sanitation kits and medical kits. It is also using a public health and sanitation campaign and mobile clinic to help prevent a severe outbreak of post-flood epidemics. Children are being given books and bags to lessen the impact on their schooling.

Prince David, Tearfund’s regional advisor in India, says that Dharbhanga district in Bihar is cut off from its two main highways, including the one leading the Bihar state capital, Patna. Villages outside a four kilometer radius of Dharbhanga town are submerged under five feet of water.

Tearfund partner agency Discipleship Centre (DC) has been distributing emergency food relief – pounded dry rice with sugar – and is providing temporary shelter materials to some 2,500 flood affected families across 25 villages.

In a report, David explained: “The town is at the confluence of river systems which are fed from upper parts of Nepal. Whereas the rainfall here hasn’t been the main cause of the flood, the river system brings water from outside and inundates land in the interior areas.”

There has been a pause in the continual monsoon rainfall. If there is no more rain in the water catchment area, it will take four weeks for the water to recede, but more rain is expected.

“Village Development committees in DC’s target villages formed themselves into clusters and held contingency planning meetings before the floods arrived. This prepared village volunteers and gave sufficient time for evacuation," said Prince. "It is difficult to estimate losses as all the villages are under water and communities are completely cut off, but we are confident and have hope because there was good planning.”

Experts are already associating the levels of flooding with the effect of climate change. Given the current predictions for global warming, such disasters and floods are set to become worse and more frequent in the future, predicted Christian Aid.

Christian Aid has worked in Bihar state for many years, as it is home to some of the most marginalized people in India. The aid agency said the south Asia floods demonstrate just how vulnerable the poorest communities are to the effects of climate change.

Christian Aid partner organizations have already begun the distribution process for emergency food rations, cooking utensils, water purification tablets and clothing for people marooned by the floods in both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Delivery was set to begin earlier this week, initially targeted to reach 50,000 people.

In India, many of the most vulnerable are lower caste farm laborers and their families, known as Dalits. They have not only lost their homes, but are also losing the chance of vital income.

In Bangladesh, food rations was initially set to be distributed to 35,000 people in low-lying areas most severely affected by the flooding.

The rainy season is only just beginning and the floods could yet worsen. But even when the water levels subside, communities will need help for months in order to rebuild their lives. Christian Aid is in the process of developing its long-term strategy.