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UN health agency scales up assistance to flood victims in India, Nepal

UN health agency scales up assistance to flood victims in India, Nepal

Floods in India, Nepal have caused the Kosi River to breach  embankments
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) is working to curb the risk of disease outbreaks and help millions affected by deadly floods in India and Nepal.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) is working to curb the risk of disease outbreaks and help millions affected by deadly floods in India and Nepal.

The flooding began last month when heavy monsoon rains caused a dam to break, breaching the eastern embankment of the Kosi River, which straddles the border between the two countries.

The Sunsari district of Nepal and 16 districts in India's Bihar state, one of the country's poorest, have been the areas hit hardest. The Kosi River appears to have altered its course, flooding areas of Bihar not prone to inundation and damaging nearly a quarter of a million houses.

Working with the Indian and Nepali Governments, WHO has provided emergency medical supplies and equipment for almost 200,000 people. It is also keeping an eye on the possibility of the spread of communicable diseases, supporting child immunization campaigns and ensuring that there is safe drinking water.

In India, 3.4 million people have been affected in close to 2,000 villages, and 285 relief camps and 249 health centres have been set up for the uprooted.

WHO is sending emergency medicines and equipment to treat 60,000 people for one month. “The supplies will be able to treat people suffering common diseases and malaria,” said Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General of the agency.

More than 70 WHO staff from the National Polio Surveillance programme are monitoring the health situation in the camps, and the agency is also helping to immunize children between the ages for measles and provide them with oral vitamin A drops.

The agency has also supplied 100 chloroscopes to ensure water quality in the camps, and has also given $12,000 to the Indian Red Cross to help deliver relief supplies, including water, tents, bednets and clothing.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has voiced its commitment to help Bihar's children.

“In any disaster, children and women are most vulnerable to disease and distress. “We heard from the Government that the flood-affected children and women are their top priority,” said UNICEF India Country Representative Karin Hulshoff, in Bihar state's capital Patna to meet with authorities.

In a meeting with Bihar's top official overseeing relief efforts, she stressed that the agency will continue to work with the Government and other partners in areas hit hard by floods and also assist help with rebuilding. “Our endeavour will be to support the Government to build back better,” she added.

UNICEF has dispatched midwifery kits and materials such as medical tents for childbirth, water tanks and bleaching powder to the worst-hit districts. It has also helped transport dozens of doctors and paramedics from areas not affected by the floods to help victims.

Across the border in Nepal, flooding has displaced over 70,000 people, and health teams were dispatched to each emergency shelter.

WHO, with essential stocks standing by in the event of a disaster, was able to respond promptly, sending drugs and emergency medicines to treat 5,000 severe cases, enough health kits for 120,000 people for one month, malaria kits for 10,000 people for three months and diarrhoeal medications to help over 5,500 patients.

The agency is helping Nepalese authorities monitor the health status of the uprooted, and is also helping the Ministry of Health and Population in preparing a massive measles and polio vaccination campaign for children, slated to begin next week.

“WHO is monitoring the situation very closely with the Epidemiology and Diseases Control Division of the Ministry of Health, to ensure the health of the affected people,” said Alex Andjaparidze, WHO Representative to Nepal.

A joint assessment conducted by WHO, UNICEF and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) found that health services are insufficient to meet the needs of the uprooted in the district of Saptari. Facilities are not equipped to handle the load of patients, and hygiene is very poor.

The evaluation also found that infectious diseases, especially diarrhoea, are on the rise. In Kankalni camp, the team said that the number of diarrhoea cases is increasing exponentially.

Despite several logistical issues, the distribution of food to those in need has occurred smoothly, and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has committed to distributing supplies for two months..