Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Safe water, disease control priorities during India-Nepal flooding

The World Health Organization is providing supplies and technical assistance in response to the deadly flooding in India and Nepal that has also displaced millions of people.

Heavy monsoonal rains on 18 August swelled the Kosi River to breaking point, resulting in flood waters breaching an embankment and causing severe flooding in Nepal's Sunsari district as well as in 16 districts of adjacent India's Bihar state. The river seems to have changed its course, flooding areas of Bihar that are not usually inundated.

More than 3 million people in over 1700 villages have been affected in India and 70 000 in Nepal. While search and rescue operations are ongoing, both countries will face immediate and medium term challenges in providing safe water, sanitation and access to health care to prevent and control communicable disease outbreaks.

"No outbreaks have been reported in India nor Nepal, but the flooding, risk for water- and vector-borne diseases due to the massive population displacements, hot climate, stretched hygiene and sanitation levels and eventual pools of stagnant water pools left behind by receding flood waters," said Dr Poonam Singh, Deputy Regional Director for WHO's South-East Asian Regional Office.

At least 56 people have died in the floods in India, according to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, while more than 220 000 houses have been damaged. Measles immunizations will begin for all children aged up to 5 years in affected areas.

Indian authorities are leading relief efforts in the country's northern Bihar state and have established accommodation and health centres for thousands of displaced people. Authorities are providing 20 million chlorine tablets for water purification. WHO is in close contact with the Ministry of Health and is supplying 100 chloroscopes for measuring water quality, as well as health promotion and communications material related to measles immunization and public health awareness.

In Nepal, WHO has sent emergency medicines and equipment capable of treating more than 120 000 people for one month to flood-affected areas in the Sunsari district, where 27 shelters have been established. Additional anti-malaria and anti-diarrhoea supplies have also been deployed, while larger quantities of medicines have been pre-positioned in three hubs. Staff from WHO's Country Office have also joined field missions to respond to and assess health needs, as well as deliver medicines.

Nepal's Haripur, Shripur, Laukihi and Paschhim Kushaha districts are among the worst-affected by the flooding, which has also made the country's east-west highway impassable.

"With so many people forced from their homes into extremely challenging conditions, all effort must be made to ensure the supply of safe drinking water, food, sanitation and accommodation facilities, as well as essential medicines," Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises Cluster. (reliefweb)

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