India floods maroon millions

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | August 7, 2000


In the state of Assam, Brahmaputra River flooding drove thousands of families from their homes into

relief camps. Roads to outlying villages remained blocked on Monday.

In the state of Bihar, in eastern India, the Bagmati River submerged large areas, causing millions in crop

damage and destroying 3,000 homes.

This latest round of severe flooding will complicate ongoing recovery from a "super cyclone" that hit the

Indian state of Orissa last October, noted Donna Derr, associate director of Church World Service

international emergency response.

The October cyclone damaged more than a million homes, washed away roads and phone lines, ruined

schools, and destroyed farming and fish cultivation.

Flooding this past weekend "compounds the already substantial efforts underway from the earlier

disaster and means that relief plans will have to be revised to consider needs of persons from this latest

round of flooding," she said.

Derr also noted that past relief efforts have been very effective. "We have strong partners in India and

they are very good at the disaster relief work they undertake," she said. "This will certainly require them

to extend much longer the relief efforts they already had underway and will require the input of

substantial additional resources from their international partners."

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is active in India on an ongoing basis, according to Rebecca

Pereverzoff, who helps coordinates the central and southern Asia department. "We have two MCC

country representatives who live in Calcutta, and we operate programs that send material aid -- like

food shipments -- to orphanages, leprosy hospitals, and homes for the elderly," she said.

"We also operate partnership programs with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that focus on

issues like health or women's empowerment," she added.

MCC also sponsors a student sponsorship program to provide elementary and high school students the

means to receive an education. MCC also staffs some 30 professionals from India to help coordinate its

programs, which focus mainly in eastern and central India.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has also actively responded in India. As part of

the ongoing response to those affected by the super cyclone last October, UMCOR sent a grant of

$100,000 which provided relief materials, temporary shelter, dry rations, and basic medical facilities.

UMCOR's response -- and that of many other faith-based groups -- has been coordinated through

Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), which is an India-based organization similar to CWS. It

represents 24 Protestant and Orthodox churches in India, has a widespread staff representation, and is a

member of Action By Churches Together (ACT International), a worldwide ecumenical disaster relief

coalition.

Relief coordinators with Lutheran World Service-India, as well as staff from the United Evangelical

Lutheran Church of India, are also working with ACT to provide ongoing help to flood survivors.

The Michigan-based Christian relief agency International Aid, in partnership with Mission India, sent a

shipment of relief goods to India in January.

Together, faith-based groups have offered crisis assistance to at least 90,000 families -- or 450,000

individuals. Relief efforts have included transporting food, water, shelter, materials, and clothing to

families who lost everything. Medical teams also brought first aid to remote areas. Counselors are still

offering mental health assistance to families who were traumatized by the sudden onset of floodwaters.

Internationally, the ACT coalition raised more than $ 4 million for crisis work alone.

Using "food-for-work" projects, ACT members have worked alongside residents to repair roads and

clear communal ponds around many villages. Fallen trees have been cut up and removed. Children

who lost their parents back in October are housed with caretakers under tarpaulins in improvised

orphanages, as are temporary schools for which thousands of books have been supplied. Thousands of

fishing nets and boats have been offered to communities of fishermen. Women's groups are

establishing nurseries for coconut palms and cashew nut trees to supplement for the destroyed

plantations.

ACT members have also helped residents recreate irrigation canals to revive farming in many villages,

even on land that was badly damaged by a cyclone-caused tidal wave. Hundreds of wells have been

cleared, cleaned, and repaired. In many villages new wells are being drilled, and several hundred of

them were established in a manner so they can be relied on to supply clean water even in times of

excessive floods.

Thousands of collapsed huts and houses have been cleared to make room for temporary shelters built

with a mix of plastic sheeting and traditional materials such as mud and straw. Since this is how

hundreds of thousands of families now live, housing remains the biggest challenge for residents. There

are still some 1.6 million homes to build or repair.

And just when most crisis assistance was over from the October cyclone -- and relief groups were

focusing on the huge amount of rehabilitation work remaining -- the latest round of flooding hit.

Representatives from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) were in the area directly

hit by the most recent flooding. "An ADRA disaster team was coincidentally lodging in the affected area

when the disaster occurred and was able to talk to local officials and get an immediate assessment of the

response needs," says Dennis Tidwell, ADRA India country director.

ADRA reported that it will provide approximately 1,000 affected people with blankets and cooking

utensils such as plates, bowls, and pans.

The Salvation Army and the International Red Cross are also responding in India.


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