Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Bountiful Flood for Mosquitoes

With all the significant and simultaneous disasters occurring in Asia in recent weeks the extreme flooding in southern India went relatively unnoticed. The capacity of India to respond and evacuate its people without needing any significant international support also meant that it remained an issue more of national rather than international interest. I remember being astounded by the first satellite images (which I cannot post here) which showed the entire southern area of India completely submerged coast to coast. Millions were uprooted and more than 200 lost their lives. Then TV images came out as the floodgates at Jurala dam on the Krishna river were opened and the sheer, raw, terrifying power of water was on display, up close and personal. 

My intrepid friend and colleague, John Roche, veteran of dozens of conflicts and disasters over the last 20 years was on the spot within hours to support the relief effort. As the floods now recede John has taken a breath to put some reflections on paper and consider the massive road to recovery that lies ahead. The stench of decay and the lucrative flood-bounty for mosquitoes are just some of the lingering images. John has long-threatened to post for Head Down Eyes Open - let's hope this opens the floodgates (no pun intended). 

The first thing one notices as you drive into the Andhra Pradesh district of Kurnool, which was badly affected by South India’s recent floods and was inaccessible for several days, is the stench of decaying debris. Almost two weeks after the disaster, the devastation in this area is of major proportions. 

As one local government coordinator told her district officers: “This is a time to be practical. We are battling to support the communities that have been crushingly affected by this disaster and, with the Red Cross’ help, we can bring a human touch to this misfortune.”

As the clean-up operations here reach maximum capacity, one can get a picture of how much suffering this community has been witness to.

Indiscriminate flooding

“It happened so fast and we were unprepared,” says Dr Reddy, district branch secretary for Kurnool. “The flood waters have been so indiscriminate and almost everyone has been affected - poor, rich, businessmen, prominent personalities almost 90 per cent of the residents. Andhra Pradesh has not seen any floods on this scale in more than a hundred years – the region is normally associated with droughts.

“Residents walk around in a state of shock. The extent of the damage runs into millions and the thick black sludge left by the receding water poses a dangerous hidden threat to health – it’s a fight against the clock to prevent a serious outbreak of infectious diseases,” Dr Reddy adds.

With tears in his eyes, Kurnool’s mayor also has that shocked stare. All he can say is: “We need help … don’t forget us.”

Washed away

While a kind of normality is returning to this once thriving town, the crisis is far from over. Not only have so many livelihoods been lost, but people’s lives have been washed away in a flash. Their memories - the photographs of loved ones and the lifetime possessions – are gone and cannot be replaced.

As the devastating consequences of this disaster unfold, a new danger - the increased exposure of outbreaks of infectious disease - is lurking in the mist. Mosquitoes seem to be the only ones to benefit from the disaster, as the remaining floodwaters provide a happy breeding ground in this malaria-prone region.

As one travels outside of Kurnool into the heart of the rural communities in the neighbouring district of Mahaboonager, one sees more despair and desolation. People’s homes have either been washed away or are now unliveable. As a result, community members have been forced to move out of the areas they have lived in for so long, and take refuge in makeshift settlements exposing them to further danger. Women are particularly vulnerable as no adequate sanitation facilities are available in these open areas.

Needs are overwhelming

With touching solidarity, unaffected communities are providing assistance to flood-affected people, and there are lines of trucks on the highway distributing cooked food. But the needs are overwhelming despite all the goodwill.

The Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) has been closely monitoring the situation along with its State branches since the disaster began.

The IRCS Control Room (Flood Operations) has been activated to receive and consolidate information from the disaster areas. Family packs amounting to INR 11.88 millions released, and enough relief items for 5,000 families were sent to Andhra Pradesh in the first days following the flooding. These items include stoves and blankets and kitchen sets, and were sent to Karnataka State branch.

Health education

The society’s national headquarters also deployed four water and sanitation units that are capable of producing 5,000 litres of water each hour for drinking and hygiene purposes. Trained Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers have been supporting and leading health education discussions in temporary camps to help reduce the risk of disease among those displaced.

The IRCS has launched an appeal to boost its relief efforts with technical support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The initial appeal aims to meet the needs of some 250,000 persons, providing temporary shelter, replace crucial kitchen materials that have been washed away ,support the promotion of hygiene and provide a safeguard from health hazards such as malaria. 
(this post also appeared on the mother ship at



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