INDIA Fighting to reach dry land

 Emergency Response
 4th Sep 2008

The desolation and pain in the eyes of Rihana Kahtun is palpable. I met her in Triveniganj, where she was sitting by the banks of the furious Kosi river, staring vacantly ahead. After a bit of prodding, she shared her encounter with one of the worst floods that India has seen in more than 50 years.

Rihana’s village in Madhepura district was severely flooded when the Kosi river burst its banks three weeks ago, sending raging floodwaters and debris through Bihar state and leaving three million people homeless. Rihana’s entire family was marooned in Lahigara village for more than 10 days without any food or safe drinking water.

Rihana was finally rescued and brought here – but the rest of her family were left behind, stranded and still waiting for help.

She hopes they will be able to cross over soon, but there is an acute shortage of boats and it is extremely difficult to get on the few that are on the river.

“I was thrown off the boat by men three times before I could make it to the other end,” she said.

In times of disaster, women, children and the aged are the most vulnerable. I met several others like Rihana today. They also shared their experiences of being threatened and facing violence when they were trying to get to safety or access food and other relief supplies.

Rihana is a daily wage laborer and has lost all of her meager belongings in the past few days.

“I have no idea when I will be able to return home. Dry clothes and a full meal is what I need now,” she said.

CARE India has come forward to help Rihana and thousands like her. CARE has deployed motorized boats in Supaul district to ferry stranded people to safe, dry ground. In cooperation with the government, CARE will manage a relief camp for up to 5,000 people, providing desperately needed safe drinking water, access to health services, clothes, sleeping mats, and other essential items for people who have lost everything.

Because women and children are often least able to fend for themselves in emergencies, CARE is making special arrangements to provide nutritional food for women, infants and children. Pregnancy kits and baby food have also been procured.

The homeward journey for Rihana and many like her is certainly going to be long; authorities predict it could be four months before the floodwaters recede and displaced families are able to go home. Until then, CARE’s emergency team is ensuring that people like Rihana have a safe place to sleep, clothes, hot meals and clean water.

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