At least one million people have lost their homes to floods in eastern India, but government relief is slow and inadequate, voluntary groups said today. The flooding, triggered by annual monsoon rains over the past week, has hit an area where 2.3 million people live and damaged thousands of acres of paddy in the coastal state of Orissa.
But, days after floodwaters submerged hundreds of villages in 12 of Orissa’s 30 districts; authorities have failed to reach around one million people who remain stranded without shelter, food and medicines, say charities.
Infants are almost starving
“People are still desperately asking for dry food and drinking water and infants are almost starving due to non-supply of baby food,” said Archarya Kalyan Anand, of Sarvoday Rahat Abhiyan, a charity distributing food and medicine in Kendrapara district, 80km east of the state capital Bhubaneswar. “The administration is still in the wilderness, and yet to reach some of the worst-hit villages.”
Authorities deny they have failed to deal with the disaster, saying relief efforts had initially been hampered due to continuous rain. “I do admit some voluntary organisations have reached the affected villages prior to government agencies, but it does not mean the government has failed to discharge its responsibilities,” said Jagadananda Panda, a top relief official.
But volunteer groups say requests to authorities for material such as polythene sheets have gone unheeded.
As rains continue, thousands of people forced from their flooded homes are camping on river embankments and national highways with little or no shelter. Others found shelter in local schools and colleges.
“My house is destroyed and all my belongings and the standing crop in the field have been washed away,” said Premalata, a 50-year-old widow from Shyamsundarpur village in Kendrapara who had taken refuge in a college building.
Officials warn of an epidemic in flooded areas and say they are sending medical teams to flood-hit villages, but charities say there are areas where no government agencies are present.
“Our medical team is providing healthcare support and free medicine to at least 2 000 people every day, whom the government system has failed to each,” said Abhaya Pati, the secretary of Utkal Bipanna Sahayata Samiti, a leading volunteer group.
Three government officials were transferred for mismanagement of relief operations last week, as hundreds of boats brought from other states for relief and rescue were left unused.