Monday, September 8, 2008

Looking for dry ground and a better life: Bihar Flood drives migration in India

Source: World Vision - Asia Pacific
By Kitkupar Shangpliang, World Vision India

Born 20 days before floods ravaged the eastern Indian state of Bihar, baby Sabrun is already an object of migration and so also, are thousands of others trying to escape poverty and the floods. Her family travelled 20 kilometers on foot for two hours to reach the nearest relief camp in Madhepura district.
Sabrun's father is a *rickshaw puller, landless and earning a mere Rs.40 a day, equivalent to a dollar. "I don't want to leave my village", said this worried father. But he may not have a choice. Without job and food security back home, families such as this may be forced to move elsewhere in this migration prone zone.
Even in times when there is no flood, migration is a grave concern in this poverty stricken state of India. New-Delhi bound trains are always packed with migrant laborers from the villages of rural Bihar. And when they reach the towns and cities - they end up as daily laborers who are forced to live a tougher life in the city.
"All the trains were running fully packed and railway stations were overcrowded, indicating that people were migrating on a mass scale", said a government official from the Additional Disaster Management Cell. Official sources in the three districts said, that thousands of people, mostly poor landless labourers, were migrating by train as far as Mumbai and other major cities in southern India.
World Vision Relief staff of the first assessment team, J.L Franco observed, "People are rushing to board any vehicle - from bicycles, rickshaws, carts and trains - to escape to safer places".
For now, baby Sabrun and her family are taking shelter in a relief camp run by the DL College Authorities and assisted by World Vision. They are getting three square meals a day, they have a class room-turned dormitory for shelter but they are running short of clothing. Somehow, the situation is under control but for how long? As the families go back to their village or decide to detour - real agony will begin.
There will be no crops left, land owners and farmers will not be able to offer jobs in the fields for the next six months and women who typically cut the crops in exchange for a share of food , will be left hungry and without work. "Then people will be forced to send their children as young as ten or eleven to work in the towns as domestic help or in tea shops", said Kaushal Kishore, Secretary of DL College governing body.
Kishore has been instrumental in setting up the relief camp and allowed the usage of space at his college in the midst of opposition from his other colleagues. "We have used this college campus as the camp during the flood in 1984, but that flood is nothing compared to this one", said this soft spoken but determined middle aged man.
Kishore and his other active colleagues, at their capacity, have done their best to educate people not to fall into the force or temptation of migration. While migration looks like the better option, people face dire consequences when they leave their village and live in foreign lands, "Some of them cannot come home even if they want to, because they have nothing back home", Kishore said.
The solution: Proper housing for the poor
Digging deeper into the matter, Kishore's colleague Divender explained: The State's Housing Scheme is not working here as it should. Before the government would channel housing money through the village committee, which monitors how people use the money for housing. Now that money goes straight to the family. Most of the families then end up spending the money repaying debts or spending it on a marriage celebration. Had people used the money for building concrete homes, they could have minimized their loss during this flood.
"As you can see, all homes are thatch-made, so the water destroyed everything. If concrete homes had been built, the structures would have survived, lessening the chance for migration because families would have had their houses even after they have lost everything else", said Divender. The Bihar context is not something any one can understand easily. The State and NGOs are attempting to do their best but the gaps are huge and the problem big.
History of Migration
Historically, people left Bihar due to the loss of land, recurrent famines, and land infertility. Now they leave because of flooding. There were about 195 million migrants in India according to the 1981 census, and a large portion of that number comes from Bihar migrants.
In the past, most migration was short-distance, from one rural district to another, female-dominated, or for marriage reasons. When rural-to-urban migration trends increased, it was primarily within one's own district, male-dominated, and employment driven. The last ten years have seen a completely different pattern: people of both sexes are now going away to other states and cities across the country to find work.
Human Trafficking another possible consequence:
The issue of people being trafficked, especially children, is of great concern in this disastrous situation. Bihar stands at the helm of India's human trafficking zone. Economic poverty, food insecurity and now flooding will push more people from rural to urban areas, complicating the already complex Indian urban problem.
Civil society and media reports indicate that a large number of cases like this explained how girls and women are being promised a better job in the cities but finally end up as daily laborers, domestic help and even forced to prostitution.
Could this flood add to the human trafficking problem that already exists in east India? Village leader Murli Yadav fears, "In the past only men or women left their homes, today the entire family is moving along".
*rickshaw: two wheeler cart pulled by one personaidnews

'Administration has to be more sensitive'

We hope to see better results in retrofitting schools, VC Menon, member, National Disaster Management Authority, tells SREELATHA MENON.

Did the floods in the Kosi river take the authorities by surprise? For no one had any clue they were coming. There were no boats for days. What authority does the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has in such a situation?We have all the powers required to face any disaster. The NDMA was formed under the National Disaster Management Act of 2005 and is headed by the prime minister. Former Army chief Gen NC Vij (retd) is the authority’s vice-chairman and all its eight members are experts in fields related to disaster management.
Why was everyone clueless about the condition of the Kosi embankment? Is the security of millions in the hands of a lone engineer in Biratnagar whose faxes no one reads in New Delhi, Patna or Kathmandu, as media reports have been revealed?The embankment is in another country which was in turmoil for some time. So that has to be taken into account.
So people kept quiet because it was diplomatic to do so?I can’t comment on that.
How does the NDMA work with other arms of the government?There is a National Crisis Management Committee, headed by the Cabinet secretary, with all Union secretaries as members. It is like a committee of secretaries and it meets daily and takes decisions. It looks at all the crises that are beyond the capacity of the state governments to handle. The executive committee of the NDMA is headed by the home secretary and the secretary of the NDMA is a member of this committee.
Why is it that in Bihar, for days together there were insufficient boats to ferry people out of danger?We have 2,600 boats there now and 11 helicopters. We are getting these from various agencies. There are 18 teams of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) with 733 people dealing with the rescue operations. These are people trained to deal with floods and are part of the eight battalion force of the NDRF (of roughly 10,000 men).
Was there a shortage of choppers? Can you summon private aircraft to deal with large-scale evacuation?We can take over any hospital or private establishment in such a situation. But in Bihar, the only airstrip nearby was in Purnea. It is not possible to have more choppers there. Having more boats was also not safe as we would not have been able to control the safety of the people. There are already stories of private boatmen looting people in distress. We have to be very cautious. We are dealing with 34,28,000 people in 1,914 villages. We have boats which can carry 10 people as well as those which can carry 20-30. Even operating these boats has been a challenge because they have been hitting railway tracks as water is eight feet deep all over.
What about the government in Bihar? The state has been facing floods every year. Why was it not able to mobilise sufficient supplies and rescue people for days together in districts like Araria?Look at their website and you will find that each district has the power to procure boats for floods. We are there to facilitate this. Bihar has had worse floods. In the 1987 floods, 28.6 million people were affected and in the 2004 floods, 220 million people were affected. So far 3.4 million have been affected and we have evacuated over 600,000. We are running 285 camps with 25,000 people each. Do you know what it costs to run a camp of that size? It is not easy given the fact that the entire area is under water.
Some government officials are dismissive of these efforts even now. They say Bihar has three kinds of crops: Kharif, rabi and relief. What do you say?It is true that people there are used to relief and disaster. It is a way of life in Bihar. All that can be said is that the local administration has to learn to be more sensitive.
How is it that a fortnight after the floods, industry was nowhere in the picture? Doesn’t the NDMA have any link with industry?We have a corporate task force with the CII, the Ficci, major companies as well as an NGO taskforce with 20 organisations. We have given them a list of things needed and they are supplying them. For instance, every day, one lakh steel sheets are being sent from steel factories, including that of Tata Steel, which has its own relief department. We let companies take credit for this. We are just links. NGOs like World Vision, Caritas, Oxfam and Vani are among the 20 organisations which are in the NGO taskforce. They are adopting camps.
You were a part of the UN relief operation for tsunami and it was counted as one of the best. Can that be replicated ?Of course . That is why the NDMA was formed with professional expertise. Our mission is zero tolerance to avoidable deaths. We are creating early warning systems and rescue systems.
You have been periodically issuing guidelines on flood management and quake resistance. What is the compliance?We have issued guidelines on management of floods, earthquakes, and now on biological disaster. Our national executive committee, headed by the home secretary, monitors their implementation. Our guidelines on earthquakes mooted that all home loans should have a component on quake-proofing houses. It is already in place for zone 4 and zone 5 houses. For the rest, the emphasis is on strengthening the lifeline structures like schools and hospitals. Do you know 33,000 children died in China’s schools in the recent earthquake and many of the 88,000 victims of the Muzaffarabad quake died in classrooms. We have to prevent that here.
Are we expecting any disaster now?Yes, a devastating earthquake near Uttarakhand. It can happen anytime.
How many schools have we retrofitted?Just one in Delhi and we will do eight more, besides one each in a district of Zone 4 and 5.
You have retrofitted just one school in four years. Doesn’t that reflect poorly on the NDMA?We are launching a school safety project this year and we hope to see better results in retrofitting schools. (Business Standard)

World Vision commits Rs. 8 Crore for Bihar flood survivors

Chennai, Sept 4 (ANI/Business Wire India): World Vision India today committed Rs. eight crores to respond to the mounting challenges facing the survivors of Bihar floods. This will respond to the immediate relief, recovery and rehabilitation needs of 125,000 people (around 25,000 families) in the Madhepura district, one of the worst affected by the floods. Over the last three days around 10,000 people (2000 families) have been served with immediate food relief."Initially, we were looking at close to Rs.4 crores to reach the people on the ground with the most essential needs- cooked food, dry rations, family kits and shelter material," says Franklin Joseph, Director- Humanitarian Emergency Affairs, World Vision India, "but by looking at the number of the people in the camps and needs that would arise, we have added temporary shelter material, hygiene kits and water containers to the survival kits."World Vision is providing chuda (flat rice), sathu (lentil meal) and jaggery (country sugar), candles and match boxes as survival kits to people who are coming into the camps around the town of Saharsa, a neighbouring district. People in the camps are also being provided with cooked food for lunch and dinner. Reports say that the water is slowly starting to recede. But the challenges for the people who are in the camps are many. Two boys, Pappu, 14 and Deepak, 10 have been missing for a week now and their parents have started to lose hope. Their neighbors suspect that the raging waters have washed both of them away to the unknown, something the parents are not willing to accept. But witnesses said, they found no trace of the two boys. Several families are looking for members they have lost as they fled the waters.In one of the relief camps, ten-month old Priyansu with boils all over her body is sleeping on her mother's lap. As she hold her baby close, says her mother Rina, "She doesn't cry much and sleeps well at night and I breastfeed her." Finding medical help for this condition in the relief camp would be a challenge.The urgent needs are for health care, clean drinking water and protection for children. We are assessing the needs as quickly as possible so that we can put in place additional programmes to respond to the health needs of the people in the camps," says Franklin Joseph, adding that "Protection of children will be another major focus."World Vision has responded to every major disaster in India in the last few decades including the tsunami, Kashmir earthquake and the recent floods in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Orissa and Assam. World Vision India is also member of the NGO steering committee of the National Disaster Management Authority.