Story by Caroline Haga, IFRC
Photos by Caroline Haga and Indian Red Cross Society
Extremely heavy rains in mid-July caused severe flooding in the Indian states of Assam and Bihar. The floods affected more than 14 million people, displaced over a million and destroyed a vast amount of farmland. Whole houses were submerged and entire villages were cut off.
Indian Red Cross Society volunteers have supported communities in both states since the flooding began, warning people about the incoming floods, moving families to safety and providing first aid.
Red Cross teams have distributed food, clean water, medication, hygiene kits and shelter items.
The district of Morigaon in Assam experienced the worst floods in 15 years. This used to be 33-year-old Muftafizur Rashul’s and his family’s home. Now they’ve lost everything. “Floods washed over the family home where I had lived for 20 years,” he says sadly as he surveys the submerged land. He is grateful that his family managed to get away from the rising floodwaters in time, but now they face the daunting task of rebuilding their lives.
In Bihar, 80-year old Sita Ram Yadav and his wife Shyama Devi also lost almost everything.
“The floods just came in a rush and suddenly we had water up to our waist or higher,” Shyama Devi says with tears in her eyes.
“Floodwaters destroyed our rice paddies and washed away the rice, wheat and grains we had stored,” Sita Ram Yadav says. “We also lost five goats and four cows.”
Devastated by their losses, including many personal belongings and even their pots and pans, the family is struggling to rebuild.
To make matters worse, they have encountered snakes including cobras both inside and outside, forcing them to be extra careful as they work to fix what they can.
Still, the couple is trying to stay positive that they will be able to repair their home and regrow their vital crops.
In flood emergencies and other disasters disease outbreaks are always a threat. In Assam and Bihar, people are forced to live in unsanitary conditions among flood waters in water-damaged houses or makeshift shelters, often without proper protection from mosquitoes that transmit rapidly spreading diseases such as dengue.
Indian Red Cross volunteers are in the communities raising awareness about health risks and good hygiene practices to help prevent disease outbreaks. In some districts Red Cross teams also provide free-of-charge medical care and check-ups as well as medicines to families.
In both states, Indian Red Cross branches continue to support families to rebuild their lives. Family packs are being packed and distributed to those worst affected – families such as Rashul’s and Yadav’s who have lost their entire homes and livelihoods. The family packs include tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, clothing, bed sheets and buckets.
Dibya Jyoti Deka, 22, is leading the team of volunteers. They are compiling the packs in Assam in the sweltering heat for days on end.
“It’s tough work, but I enjoy it,” he says with a smile. “This is the way that I want to serve humanity.”