MSF starts emergency relief work in Bihar State, India

The Humanitarian aid agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres, has started an emergency response in the areas worst affected by the flooding in Bihar State, India.

Three medical teams of doctors and paramedic staff will focus on providing medical care to the population affected by the flooding. Initially the teams will travel to different areas in Araria, which will enable them to quickly reach the maximum number of people. There will also be distribution of non-food items – so far MSF has sent four trucks containing supplies of 15 000 tarpaulins, 4 000 blankets, 15 000 jerry cans and chlorine tablets for distribution to those affected by the floods.

Last the Prime Minister declared the floods as a "national calamity" and appealed to international NGOs for humanitarian support. The flooding is a result of a break of a breach in the Kosi river embankment on the Nepal side on August 20th. The break forced the river water to take a new course through the eastern blocks of Supaul district. The government estimates that around five million people have been affected by the flooding and one million people have been displaced. "We are not talking about the normal monsoon flooding. The problem is that the river Kosi has changed its course and the villagers and authorities are totally unprepared for this kind of crisis. There was no disaster management preparation and the authorities have asked for MSF's and other Organisations help to cope with the disaster." said Mari-Carmen VIÑOLES, MSF Head of Mission in Delhi.

The strong currents forming across the flooded regions mean that motorized boats are the only safe means of evacuating people. There are very few motorised boats available and only 200 000 people have been evacuated so far. The lack of motorized boats has also meant that it has been very difficult to assess the situation by water. This has meant that there is very little data available on the numbers of people who have died or are yet to be rescued. Some areas remain totally cut off and stories from those in the makeshift camps indicate that entire villages have been destroyed by the floodwaters with no inhabitants surviving. These areas are now starting to face acute food shortages. Heavy rain in the past few days has made the relief effort even more difficult.

Displaced people are taking shelter in temporary camps, in open land, on embankments and by the roadside. Most people do not have proper shelters, and because the priority is the search and rescue operations, there is very little organisation in the camps. There is insufficient drinking water available in the camps and those staying in the open are taking river water, which is unfit for drinking. It is estimated that a further 400, 000 people will arrive in the camps in the coming days.

The government are concentrating on the search and rescue operation, which means there is less focus on the health issues in the camps. Although there is a medical presence in most camps, it is not sufficient to cope with a disaster on this scale and there is little co-ordination. So far, there have been no outbreaks of disease, but due to the overcrowding and lack of organization in the camps, an outbreak could very easily happen. MSF is monitoring the disease situation.

The most immediate needs for the population are food provision, plastic sheeting to build temporary shelters, water purification tablets, cooking utensils, buckets and hygiene kits. Medical assistance and oral rehydration sachets are also essential to prevent disease amongst the population.