Aid agencies are warning of the threat of
disease in India's Bihar State, which has been hit by devastating floods. Anjana
Pasricha reports from New Delhi the floods have displaced an estimated three
million people and killed at least 90 people.
After being evacuated from flooded villages spread
across the state, nearly a quarter of a million people have been housed in
makeshift relief camps in Bihar State. Thousands more are pouring into the
shelters, every day, as authorities step up the rescue operation.
workers say the camps are cramped and overcrowded. The United Nations has warned
that the heat, combined with limited supplies of safe drinking water and poor
hygiene, pose a great risk of water and airborne diseases.
coordinator for emergency operations in Bihar for the United Nations Children's
Fund, Mukesh Puri, says facilities in relief camps must improve, to ward off the
threat of epidemics.
"The doctors are there, but we do notice that
there is an increase in cases of diarrhea, in particular," he said. "Apart from
providing food and other basic amenities, proper hygienic conditions have to be
maintained and clean drinking water has to be provided. Particularly vulnerable
groups like small children and pregnant women, their needs have to be taken care
of, which is a challenge in such trying conditions."
The floods started
two weeks ago when the Kosi River breached a dam in Nepal. The river then
shifted course, and flood waters spread across parts of Nepal and Bihar,
including areas never threatened by floods before. Many people are still waiting
to be rescued.
Bihar's chief minister says the humanitarian crisis is
likely to be extremely serious for several weeks, because the waters are not
likely to recede anytime soon. Bihar is one of India's poorest and least
UNICEF's Puri says the aid effort will have to be
sustained for a long time and among communities not used to coping with
"The challenging part is these camps will stay there for
three months or up to six months. This is a different kind of flood," he said.
"Generally water goes away after 15-20 days. This time the people who have been
hit, they have never had floods in the last 30 years, so they are not quite
prepared in any sense for this kind of a devastation."
Nepal is coping
with the aftermath of the flooding. Aid workers there have reported outbreaks of
fever, pneumonia and diarrhea among the flood victims.
sweep across South Asia during the monsoon season, from June to September,
making millions of people homeless, killing hundreds, and destroying farmland.