South Asia Floods: Women and children most at risk as millions remain without water and sanitation, WaterAid warns

WaterAid/Ronny Sen

The international development organisation WaterAid on Monday warned that women and children continue to be most at risk from the floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.  The flood waters have affected 40 million people — a population the size of London and Tokyo combined—causing significant damage to water and sanitation facilities.

These devastating floods have wiped out fragile infrastructure, compromising families’ ability to get clean drinking water and destroying toilets and hygiene facilities, the charity said, putting lives and livelihoods at risk and inflicting countless indignities on those who survive.

For women and girls, who usually bear the burden of water collection, exposure to dirty water sources heightens the risk of infection. The loss of sanitation infrastructure means greater risk of disease transmission, heightened risks of infection, of harassment or attack when girls try to find a safe place to relieve themselves, as well as the indignity and health risks of being unable to manage periods hygienically.

India is the worst affected country with 943 deaths reported and 30 million people affected, according to the UN.

VK Madhavan, chief executive of WaterAid India said:

 “Although the flood waters are beginning to recede, the situation is getting more critical. People are unable to access safe sanitation or clean drinking water as household toilets are waterlogged and water pumps have been submerged. In this situation the outbreak of disease is highly likely.

“As an immediate response, WaterAid India is planning to chlorinate existing water sources and to distribute essential hygiene kits including soap and sanitary napkins. We are also exploring short-term options for safe sanitation.

“Given that floods have become a constant problem in Madhubani district of Bihar, one of the severely affected flood areas, in the long term, we are planning to advocate for infrastructure that is resilient to such disasters like raised water hand-pumps and appropriate toilet designs.”

In Bangladesh, the UN estimates that 8 million people have been affected across 32 districts. It’s the fourth time this year that the country has been hit by flooding.

Khairul Islam, country director for WaterAid Bangladesh said:

 “One of the unique characteristics of this year’s flood was that it came like a cyclone. Within a very short period of time, the water kept on rising with tremendous speed much like a tidal surge. This is why people did not have time to salvage their domestic resources.”

“WaterAid Bangladesh has responded to the relief efforts by providing an emergency supply of drinking water and helping flush out tube wells.  But the task ahead is huge and we must act quickly to provide communities with water and sanitation facilities in order to prevent a public health crisis.”

In Nepal, where 1.7 million people have been affected, the flood waters are starting to recede and residents are beginning to return to their homes, however the risk of disease remains high. In Siraha District cases of diarrhoea, skin infections, and viral fevers have all been reported due to the lack of clean water and sanitation.

Tripti Rai, country director for WaterAid Nepal said:

 “The flood waters have receded but for many affected communities this doesn’t mean the disaster is over, in fact it’s now dawning more heavily upon them as they have lost their homes, and many are living in areas where access to sanitation is a big challenge. Many areas have had their water and sanitation facilities destroyed, allowing diseases including diarrhoea, and eye infections to spread quickly.

WaterAid Nepal is continuing to help with the recovery efforts by disinfecting tube wells, providing aqua tabs for water purification, promoting hygiene messages, and distributing hygiene kits including sanitary products for women and adolescent girls.”

 

Toilet Facts

44 per cent of the total population in India still defecate in the open.

Open defecation causes chronic diarrhoea that leads to stunting.