by Jim Wungramyao Kasom
October 13 was observed worldwide as the International Day for Disaster Reduction. Started in 1989 by the UN General Assembly to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction, it calls for more attention than ever before, with the increasing number of disasters that we are facing now.
This year's theme to mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction is reducing the number of affected people by disasters, by 2030. This leads us to the question: how prepared and resilient is India to achieve the target? My recent trip to Bihar post the flood has raised more doubts rather than answered the question.
In August, Bihar experienced floods triggered by the incessant rains in the northern region of the state and Nepal. According to the official data, 482 people lost their lives and around 17 million were affected. While more than 7,00,000 people were evacuated, 230,000 people took shelter in 1,085 relief camps. In West Bengal the death toll reached 152, with more than 10 million people affected, and over 3,00,000 hectares of farmland was submerged. Assam recorded a death toll of 157 people, 3.2 million people in 25 districts were affected, and around 1,79, 000 hectares of crop area was damaged.
The day we landed in Kubaul Musahri Tole village, it had become an island and it took a 30-minute boat ride to reach it. Food, and other necessities, were y hard to find. As our assessment team collected names of beneficiaries from each household, I ran into 26-year-old Naresh, who lost his 50-year old father, an asthma patient during the floods. Sharing his loss, Naresh said, "my father had asthma, he was unwell and weak. However, we couldn't go to the market to buy medicines as our house was surrounded by water." The saddest part was that even the village burial ground was flooded. So, they took his father's body and laid him on the only protruding patch of land and covered the body with water hyacinth. "What could we do? We could not afford wood and there was no dry land for the burial" said a local volunteer
It is hard to forget our helplessness, and the anguish we experienced. The impact of flood tends to be highlighted in numbers: size, cost, etc, a figure you can count or calculate. But it is the stories of lives affected that strongly capture your heart and mind, compelling you to delve deeper into the situation.
Children are the most affected during floods. Their safety is a major challenge, and most of them usually suffer from waterborne disease either during or after the disaster.
In Sirsia, almost all the 150 households moved up to the road while their homes were still under waist deep water. At the relief camp, I met 22-year-old Sushila who had recently lost her baby. When the flood submerged their house she was due to deliver, and was taken to a government hospital at Kiratpur where she gave birth to a 1.2 kg baby. According to local leaders, she was forced by the hospital authorities to take the baby home as there was no space, even though the baby was weak and was suffering from jaundice. The baby died the very next day in their makeshift camp.
"The flood water came so suddenly I couldn't even salvage my school bag," said, 14-year-old Prabhu, one of the few school going children from Sirsia village. In the camp, his family was worried about food and shelter, and how they will cope post the floods. They had lost almost everything to the floods. Children are the most affected during floods. Their safety is a major challenge, and most of them usually suffer from waterborne disease either during or after the disaster.
Each person affected by the flood has a story to narrate, and every story reveals the pain they experience in the aftermath of a natural disaster. But are the people in power who takes critical decisions in the country listening to them? Can they listen to the stories of affected people such Naresh, Sushila, and Prabhu?
India needs serious and committed leaders who can change the course of ongoing dialogues on climate change and disasters risk reduction. It's about time that we build disaster resilient communities so that those affected do not become a mere statistic.
Jim Wungramyao Kasom is a Communication Associate with World Vision India.
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