DEVASTATING floods across large areas of South Asia have killed over 500 people and affected more than 16 million individuals.
Heavy rains are common across Asia this time of year, and flooding is not unusual but this year’s monsoon in South Asia has been far heavier than usual, causing some of the worst flooding for over a decade and creating a huge humanitarian crisis.
Humanitarian organisations and regional authorities are battling to provide humanitarian relief to millions of people in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, who have lost their homes, their personal belongings and their livelihoods.
As Martin Faller, Deputy Regional Director at International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) explains:
“This is fast becoming one of the most serious humanitarian crises this region has seen in many years and urgent action is needed to meet the growing needs of millions of people affected by these devastating floods.”
In Nepal, 120 people died and thousands of people were made homeless when torrential rain triggered a number of landslides by the heaviest monsoon rains to hit the country in 15 years.
According to humanitarian organisation Plan International, the relief effort in Nepal is being hampered by severely damaged infrastructure, and wide-scale power outages. According to Communications Manager Shreeram KC:
“Access continues to be a challenge, as roads are blocked off, bridges have collapsed and telecommunication lines are down, but we are working as swiftly as possible to reach communities in dire need of support.
“When I visited communities, 80 percent of the land was flooded. Children remained in their wet clothes, as their homes were either severely damaged or destroyed. Families were telling us that they had not eaten in days and were worried about the impact that future rains may have on their families and homes.”
Khusbu, an eight-year-old girl from Rautahat district in Nepal, shared her account of fleeing from home as the flood waters rose rapidly.
“When I saw the water level rising, I was so scared and worried. I had never seen so much water nor the stream nearby my house get so high. I was worried whether the water would sweep me away.
“My father asked us all to move and carry our personal items to our neighbour’s house. Now, we have no home and I don’t know how long we will have to stay in a [temporary] shelter,” she said.
In Bangladesh, one of the world’s most densely populated countries, it is estimated that 3.3 million people have been affected by this year’s flooding and local authorities have announced that this year’s flood waters have already reached record highs.
According to the state-run Flood Forecasting and Warning Center, at least 18 major rivers are flowing at dangerously high levels, while the Jamuna river has surpassed the warning levels set during the catastrophic floods of 1988.
Bangladesh’s disaster management minister, Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury announced that 27 people have died, and 600,000 people are marooned by the flood waters, while the government has established almost 1,000 makeshift shelters in which 368,000 people have sought refuge.
Almost all village-level roads remain inundated and hundreds of schools remain closed.
In India, this year’s severe monsoon rains have ravaged the states of Assam, West Bengal and Bihar, submerging thousands of homes, roads and schools, with thousand of families seeking shelter in relief camps and temporary shelters. Authorities are expecting the situation to worsen as rivers levels continue to rise.
Flooding has also disrupted train and rail services in India’s eastern states, as railway lines have been damaged by the rains. With water levels so high, aid agencies are having difficulty accessing communities, while damaged telecommunication lines pose further challenges.
South Asia is a region particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, such as flooding. However, despite the frequency of such disasters, these countries often remain ill-equipped to deal with such events. Vulnerable communities are highly dependent on aid organisations to provide the support they need.
In the immediate response to these devastating floods, the distribution of safe drinking water, supplementary nutrition and hygiene materials are prioritised.
Providing safety and protection for children during natural disasters is also of paramount importance, as Regional Director of Plan International, Senait Gebregziabher explains:
“Our years of experience in Asia has also shown us that children (especially girls) are the most vulnerable victims of disasters and require specific support to ensure their protection and safety, which can often be compromised in an emergency.
“We have created safe spaces for children, with a special emphasis on girls, and are supporting the re-opening of schools, so children can resume their education as quickly as possible.”
At present, the majority of schools in these affected areas remain closed but response teams are setting up child friendly spaces to ensure that during this time of distress, children have a safe space to not only play and heal, but to also regain a sense of normalcy in their lives.
With the monsoon rains unlikely to recede much before October, additional rainfall will only worsen the situation of the families already in vulnerable situations.