Needed: Focused help for Bihar flood victims

September 11th, 2008 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 11 (IANS) Huge lots of saris, because that’s what most rural women in flood-battered Bihar wear, and large bundles cotton cloth which can be used as badly needed sanitary napkins — rather than jeans and T-shirts.The help pouring from the metros for the flood victims of Bihar has been phenomenal, but members of an NGO working on the spot say it’s now time to focus the help and give what people there need the most.

“While we are absolutely amazed at the amount of help that has been pouring in from people in the metros and other places for the Bihar flood victims, it’s probably time to focus the help a little,” Anshu Gupta, director of Goonj, an NGO working on resource mobilisation, told IANS Wednesday on phone from Saharsa in Bihar.

Gupta, along with other volunteers of the NGO, have been working in the flood ravaged districts of the state, reaching out to people with food, clothes, medicines and other necessary items.

The Kosi river, which changed its course, has wreaked havoc in Bihar especially in the districts of Saharsa, Madhepura, Purnea, Khagaria and Katihar. According to official estimates, at least 50 people have been killed, although voluntary agencies fear the deaths could be in hundreds.

Over 2.5 million people and nearly one million cattle have been affected. About 100,000 hectares of farmland has been submerged and nearly 300,000 houses damaged.

While he appreciated the kind of help that has been pouring in, Gupta said that it’s important people now start giving what the victims there need, and not merely what they can spare.

“For instance, the women there need saris and that too in huge numbers. What we have been getting in bulk are jeans and T-shirts, which are not of much use to the women, especially the elderly ones.

“Also, we need a lot of cotton cloth which can be used as sanitary napkins. In the flood hit places, women face a lot of problems in getting hygienic napkins which they can use. These are things which people need desperately but haven’t been getting enough of,” said Gupta, who was in Saharsa Wednesday.

As an example what people do not need but are getting, Gupta said that they have been receiving lots of blankets, good quality and expensive ones but they have been more of a burden to the victims.

“After October, these blankets would be in great demand. But now, in this sweltering heat when people have to carry all their belongings, they are simply a burden,” he said.

Ruchika Gandhi, who works in Goonj’s head office here, said that eight truckloads of materials have been sent for the flood victims from the Delhi office alone since the first week of September.

“But we need more cooking pans, milk powder for babies, tarpaulin sheets, lanterns, torches and medicines. One must remember that these victims have lost everything. Therefore, they have food but no vessel to cook it in,” Gandhi said.

Medicines, which are also in big demand, especially now when the water is receding and epidemics are a serious threat, are also being distributed by the NGO.

“We also got in touch with a medical practitioner in Saharsa and bought for him medicines in bulk and a boat so that he could go around villages where people were stranded and provide them relief,” Gupta said.

Goonj has set up centres in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Chennai where people can donate materials for the flood victims.

“The situation here seems like images of Partition,” said Gupta. “Parents don’t know where their children are, wives don’t know where their husbands are, and there are problems of governance at the local level.

“No one can promise a 100 percent fair distribution but be assured that 80 percent of the materials are going to the right people, so our appeal is to keep the help pouring in.”

For addresses of the collection centres and items most in demand, log on to www.goonj.org

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