By Melissa Winkler, IFRC

Concerns over water and vector-borne diseases are mounting in northeastern India, where devastating flood waters are starting to recede, leaving behind contaminated water sources and conditions ripe for mosquitoes to breed.

In the state of Assam, an estimated 1.7 million people have been impacted by severe monsoon rains and floods that displaced tens of thousands from their homes since May.  Most remain in government camps or makeshift shelters along river banks, while those who can are returning to damaged or ruined homes to salvage belongings, make repairs and wait for aid.

The destructive floods that swept through Manipur’s lowlands are described by many in the state as the worst in decades. The tested tactics villagers normally use to protect homes, wells, crops and livestock against annual floods were futile this year, as dangerously high floodwaters forced inundated communities to flee to higher ground and stranded thousands of others.

“Ongoing heavy rain and a third wave of flooding continue to submerge villages in both states and bring misery and desperation,” says Vijay Kumar Ummidi, who manages relief operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in India. “But in some districts, floodwaters are starting to recede, exposing damaged toilets, contaminated water sources and standing water that will attract more mosquitoes.”

“We are already seeing a rise in cases of malaria, Japanese encephalitis and other vector-borne diseases, as well as infections from unsafe drinking, cooking and bathing water, so our teams are rushing to prevent and minimise disease spread in the worst-affected areas,” says Dr. Amul Kumar, the Indian Red Cross Society’s disaster management coordinator for Manipur.

IFRC released new Disaster Relief Emergency Funds this week to help the Indian Red Cross Society scale up disease prevention and other emergency assistance, in support of government-led relief efforts.

The programme will target 25,000 people in eight of the most under-served and hard-hit districts of Assam and Manipur.  These include Karimganj, Nagaon, Dhubri and Barapeta districts in Assam and Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal and Bishnupur districts in Manipur.

The IFRC funding will be used to rapidly build temporary toilets, set up water treatment and storage systems and provide mosquito bed nets, disinfectants, hygiene supplies, water purification tablets, family tents for those who lost homes, kitchen sets, tarpaulins, blankets and sheets.  Another 100 volunteers have been mobilized and additional Red Cross water, sanitation and disaster response specialists are being deployed.

“The needs are enormous, so we are focusing on the health and well-being of the poorest of the poor, those who have lost everything, and single moms, the elderly and other vulnerable people who are truly struggling to get by,” Ummidi says.


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