Children at extreme risk following recent floods in India

While various relief efforts have been made to reach those affected by the recent floods in India, lakhs of children continue to remain vulnerable due to the lack of a child-centred response, warned Save the Children while calling for immediate action to protect children at the same time.

Since Bihar, Odisha and Uttarakhand had faced major calamities last year, the recent floods have further crippled the lives and hopes of the vulnerable
communities, posing extreme risk to children.

In its response to the floods, Save the Children conducted relief distribution in Odisha last week and has a target to reach 5,000 families. It has also completed assessments in Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal -- where relief material for distribution is being moved from its warehouse in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. Save the Children’s ambition is to reach at least 10,000 households including 30,000 children.

Children are the most affected in floods in Odisha where 36 lakh people have been displaced. Another 15 lakh people have been displaced in the other states with about 40 per cent of these being children. “The risks are mounting for children in the affected areas with the scaling up of the flood situation due to continuing spells of rainfall,” informed Thomas Chandy, Save the Children’s CEO. He highlighted that Save the Children would focus on supporting state governments and other NGOs to provide health and protection services for the worst-affected children and their families. “It’s sad that a child-centred response is completely lacking in all flood-affected states despite the recurring natural disasters which have shown that children are always the worst-affected,” added Chandy.

With heavy rainfall on 21 July and further intensification of rain as a result of two more low-pressure systems that moved over Odisha, the flood situation was exacerbated by subsequent release of water from the Hirakud Reservoir: 23 districts out of 30 face severe flood with water inundation. The floods have resulted in a death toll of 47.  In comparison, the death toll following Cyclone Phailin, which hit Odisha about a year ago, on 12 October 2013, and resultant floods was 44.

Odisha’s major affected districts in the recent flooding are Balasore, Puri, Kendrapada and Cuttack of which Balasore, Puri and Kendrapada were among the worst-hit by Cyclone Phailin. “People in these districts were still to recover from the damage and destruction of last year when this devastating flood hit them again breaking the backbone of poor families,” stressed Chandy. “This was the time for sowing paddy in the fields, which the Odisha floods have irreversibly damaged.”

In the cyclone and flood-affected districts, the household kits, blankets etc. distributed last year by Save the Children have been either damaged or lost. Further, there are chronic challenges with regard to water supply (contamination), sanitation and hygiene. This has increased the vulnerability of people, particularly of the coastal communities, to contracting diarrhoea, water-borne diseases and skin diseases as they are using contaminated water for their household needs.

A consortium led by Save the Children, including CARE, TDH and Handicap International has been actively engaged in rebuilding lives after Cyclone Phailin in Kendrapada and Puri districts. However, the recent floods just after 10 months of the cyclone, inundating the whole geography have been a setback for development agencies to reach out to people and continue their work.

Save the Children had already supported 1,000 families with livelihood support, including agricultural seeds, fertilizers etc. About 80 per cent of these families which were hopeful to have a crop yield this year after last year’s loss have been again hit by a total loss of agriculture, especially in the Balasore district of Odisha.

The children who were gaining confidence and gathering themselves to continue with their studies had to be shifted to nearby villages/relatives’ homes with schools shut and Aanganwadi services stopped. The water bodies that were disinfected after cyclone have been contaminated again -- posing threat of diseases in the area. Across all the flood-affected states, the floods have had a major impact on livelihoods, disrupting access to daily wage earnings and severely affecting agricultural and horticultural livelihoods including selling and buying of staple crops, vegetable crops and cash crops.

Floods situation in Uttar Pradesh too remains grave, where the toll rose to 89 with reports of seven more deaths in the state. The eastern parts are reeling under the effects of floods which have wreaked havoc in Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Sitapur and Gonda districts. A population of about 10 lakh in the marooned villages has been cut off from the mainland. As the major rivers, Ghagra, Sharda, Rapti and their tributaries are in spate, more villages in these districts are likely to be affected. Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Lakhimpur, Barabanki, Gonda, Sitapur, Faizabad and Azamgarh were the worst affected districts in the state. Several rivers are flowing over the danger mark.

The flood situation arose following heavy downpours in Nepal and led to overflowing of rivers which originate in the Himalayan region including Tibet and Nepal. The state government has set up a 24x7 control room at the Office of the Relief Commissioner. The Chief Minister's Office started overseeing the operations undertaken by the state officials, police and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel.  The number of those affected by flood in nearly one dozen districts of the state has reached over 10 lakh in over 1500 villages. Save the Children has conducted an assessment in Gonda and Shrawasti districts (Attached) simultaneously, and for now has decided to support 1,000 households in Shrawasti.

Bihar is India’s most flood-prone State, with 76% of the population in north Bihar living under the recurring threats of flood devastation. But this year several areas that were not previously affected by floods have been affected too. Uttarakhand has also faced a calamity following the floods last year, with much of the recovery work done over one year getting washed away in the recent rains and cloudbursts. Assam too has been struck by floods while also trying to contain the conflicts on its border with Nagaland. Dhemaji is the worst hit district where and Majuli -- Asia’s largest river island -- is almost submerged and completely cut off from all sites. 50 villages in the island do not have any access to main land. 91,559 inmates of 104 officially declared relief camps are passing their days without basic amenities including food, water and sanitation. Out of them 80,819 are in Morigaon district staying in relief camps. The flood in West Bengal, where water continues to stagnate across many marooned villages has not been reported in the media and has therefore elicited least response from government or NGOs so far.

Save the Children reiterates that unless a child-centred disaster management response is enabled in the disaster-prone states across India, the plight of children will remain unattended and will therefore place a regular burden on the central and state governments, apart from the communities and people that bear the brunt of such disasters year-after-year and which we are seemingly unable to really learn any lessons from.

Save the Children works across 16 states of India and apart from its humanitarian work, it concentrates of issues related to education, health and protection of the most marginalized children.