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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Water, sanitation, grave concerns in southern India’s floods: Oxfam

Responding to the unprecedented flood calamity in the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Oxfam India Wednesday said there are high chances of epidemics breaking out due to the lack of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities in the affected areas.

The organisation has sent out teams to about 8,000 households in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh and to 4,000 households in Bagalkot, Karnataka, the districts worst hit by the floods.

“Our decision to respond in Kurnool and Bagalkot comes in the wake of the realisation that both these are arid regions and therefore were not well prepared for floods. In fact, till recently these areas were reeling under the impact of drought. The shock is heavy,” Nisha Agrawal, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Oxfam India said in a statement.

Oxfam India, an NGO, has over 200 projects throughout the country and is in partnership with several local organisations.

The rain and flood havoc that began Sep 30 in the northern districts of Karnataka and moved to engulf neighbouring areas in Andhra Padesh have so far claimed around 260 lives and left millions homeless.

“Though water has receded from many areas, most of the people are not returning to their villages as their houses have been damaged and also due to availability of cooked food in these shelters. There has been demand for temporary shelter materials (polythene, bamboo) in the affected areas,” said Agrawal.

The teams found that the situation in urban slums of Kurnool city was also bad as the area was covered with 10 to 15 inches of mud. The lack of adequate water to clean houses and other household materials was emerging as one of the major problems.

“People have lost clothes and other assets (both utensils and clothes) because of the floods. There is slush and many houses are knee deep in mud and waste material. Sewage from open drains and overflowing septic tanks have increased public health risks especially in the urban areas. People are now defecating in the open in both urban and rural areas.”

In Bagalkot, Oxfam said, all water bodies were contaminated and unsafe for consumption.

Teams found that the rural water supply pipelines were damaged in almost all the affected villages leading to further clean water crisis.

All food stocks available with affected families are spoiled by the flood water; people are not left with any commodities for consumption and are depending on the food packets distributed by government and other agencies, said the agency.

“There are very high chances of the spread of epidemics due to the lack of safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation facilities in the affected areas. The toilets in the urban slums are filled with mud and water following which people are forced to opt for open defecation that is polluting the environment. It may lead to health problems if not addressed immediately,” says Zubin Zaman, Oxfam’s humanitarian response manager.

The Karnataka government has estimated the loss to property and crops at Rs.20,000 crore while Andhra Pradesh has put its losses at Rs.12,500 crore.


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