Dr. Avnish Jolly :Floodwaters have caused difficulty in large parts of the eastern Indian state of Bihar since an embankment ruptured at Kusaha in neighbouring Nepal on 18 August. The floods have affected almost 2.7 million people in India and about 70,000 in Nepal. Known as the ‘Sorrow of Bihar’, the Kosi River has a history of unleashing wide-scale devastation.
It affects a largely marginalised population, many of whom survive on about 46 cents a day. News reports estimate that 500,000 marooned individuals have been evacuated and 198 relief camps have been set up to date. The displaced population will not be able to go back to their homes until the breach is repaired. It is estimating that these people will have to remain in these camps for anything between three to six months.
Already, vulnerable groups could be pushed over the edge by this crisis. The district administration has set up camps providing food, water and medical supplies. Polythene sheets for tents have also been distributed to those rescued. Many organizations has supplied bleaching powder to purify water and oral rehydration salt (ORS) packets to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, as well as disposable delivery kits, plastic sheeting, vitamin A supplements and other relief supplies. As more people are rescued, the pressure on the relief camps will continue to grow, making the situation of women and children even more precarious.
Last week, a maternity hut was erected in one of the largest relief camps in Supaul, with plans in place to set up 40 more within the month. Cases of diarrhoea are being reported in Araria and Supaul districts by people forced to drink contaminated river water while they were stranded. In most camps, drinking water is available through hand pumps, but more are needed as the number of displaced continues to grow. Additional toilets are also needed to meet the growing demand. Solid waste contamination in the camps and along road sides poses a risk of water and vector borne diseases in coming days.