International community neglecting South Asia flood victims

By staff writers
August 6, 2007

The poorest people in India, Nepal and Bangladesh are the chief victims of major monsoon-driven floods across South Asia. And the situation is being made worse by lack of effective international support local development planners are saying - especially in areas like Uttar Pradesh, one of the worst impacted regions.

Health problems are following in the wake of the disaster, which has so far taken the lives of 500 people and displaced 21 million. In particular, children and older people are especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases.

The very worst-hit area is Bihar in India, where 11 million people are caught up in post-flood chaos. Food shortages are so great that several clashes have been reported at parcel drops.

Umesh Sinha, who is the Emergencies Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh province in India, says that NGOs and relief support are virtually invisible in his vulnerable region. He has called for an immediate increase in global awareness and practical action.

Problems have been exacerbated by relative lack of international attention to the South Asian flood, with newspapers in the USA elsewhere showing little interest in the crisis – and the UK media devoting scant attention to floods which dwarf the recent ones in England in scale, impact and significance.

Church and civic agencies, like Christian Aid, Tearfund and CAFOD (the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development) have responded swiftly to needs in the region, but they recognise that much more needs to be done by governments and multilateral institutions.

CAFOD has made £200,000 available to help families and communities left devastated by the latest floods, after already giving £100,000 for relief work in China and Pakistan following earlier flooding.

Estimates suggest that, in Bangladesh alone, almost five million people have been affected and 80 schools have been completely ruined, with another 2,000 schools partially damaged.

Pauline Taylor-McKeown, CAFOD’s head of international programmes in Asia, says: "The extent and severity of the floods in South Asia is extremely worrying, rains are much worse than in previous years.”

She continued: "We are responding to appeals for help from our partners in the countries affected. It is clear that millions have been affected, many of them losing their homes. Work is just beginning and it is clear recovery will take a long time."

The response consists of providing food, water and non-food items including materials for shelter construction. So far CAFOD partner Caritas Bangladesh is helping 7,500 people whose homes have been affected by the floods.

In Bangladesh annual flooding can see up to one-fifth of the country submerged each year, yet this year things are much worse and 40 out of 64 of the country’s districts have been affected.

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