Two Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have already started providing medical care to the victims of the floods in the northeastern Indian state of Bihar. MSF has also started the first emergency relief distributions in various locations, including camps for the displaced, and is conducting assessments in the districts of Araria (the most affected area), Supaul, Purnia and Madhepura.
While assessing needs, and now that the roads are becoming passable again, MSF has organized mobile clinics in several locations in order to address the medical needs of the populations, particularly western parts of Araria district where relief had not yet reached. Last Tuesday for example, over one hundred medical consultations were carried out in Parwaha area alone.
Some of the people displaced by the floods have gathered in makeshift camps, some are living in the open, and others are sheltered in structures such like schools. Overall, people are facing dire sanitation conditions; access to drinking water is limited, there is a reduced number of latrines and a lack of hygiene facilities and items (showers, soap, etc.), and a considerable number of cattle are present. Officials estimate that there are bout 50 camps in such conditions in the affected areas, currently hosting about 30,000 people. Moreover, nearly 400,000 people who may currently be trapped in areas isolated by the floodwaters could arrive in these camps when the water recedes. Some areas are still under water and access is not possible yet.
“So far no epidemic outbreaks have been reported. Yet we need to be on the alert and ready to respond immediately, as when the water level decreases, the situation could worsen. We are also concerned because there are many pockets of people we have not been able to reach,” Bjorn Nissen, MSF head of mission in India, explains. To date, the organization has sent five relief trucks loaded with 15,500 plastic sheets for shelter, 4,200 blankets, 15,000 jerrycans, 15,000 cakes of soap and 3,000 water chlorination tablets. These items are already being distributed to 7,500 families. The identified priority areas for the coming days include Bhargama, Narpatganj (both in Araria), Banmakee (in Purnia, where growing needs are being reported), as well as Chhatapur (Supaul), a badly affected area where access is not yet possible.
The most pressing needs for the population still include food, plastic sheeting for shelter, water purifying tablets, kitchen utensils and hygiene kits. In order to prevent and treat diseases, mainly those related to bad water quality, oral rehydration salts and medical care are essential. MSF has eight workers on the field (mainly from the current project in Bihar for kala azar patients), among them doctors, logisticians and experts in water and sanitation. Another exploratory mission is on its way to the affected area and will evaluate the needs and the possible reinforcement of the teams already working.