As we approach the two-month mark following the devastating flash floods in Uttarakhand – which was the worst flooding in recent Indian history – the scale of the disaster is finally beginning to emerge. Save the Children, which began responding to the Uttarakhand floods within days of the disaster, has provided a multi-sectoral assessment across four affected districts. This assessment — accomplished in conjunction with Plan India and Aide-et-Action — covers the Education, Child Protection and Life Skills needs of the affected people who are desperately striving to rebuild their lives. The draft assessment report was shared with the government and civil society organisations in Dehradun on 12 August 2013. While other assessment reports are also being prepared by other agencies, this report — being among the first to be produced – helps to provide some understanding of what it will take to rebuild the flood-ravaged areas.
A peculiarity of this disaster was that many of the most affected-people remained cut-off from relief supplies for an unusually long period – even up to a month. Hopefully, this assessment will enable the government and civil society organisations to reach out to the people who will need support for some time before they can resume a normal life. According to Ray Kancharla, National Manager – Emergencies, Save the Children, “Initial thoughts from the field point to the tragic reality of children and communities struggling with their protection, education and life skills. These issues have deeply fragmented the core of their very existence. The crucial challenge is to enable recovery at the pace that is most critical and needed.”
Despite the fact that the severely damaged road and infrastructure due to the heavy monsoon rains, resulting in continued landslides, were enormous challenges for relief workers, save the Children’s relief work has reached more than 25 villages. This presence will eventually extend to 73 villages. Relief kits which include food supplies for 30 days, blankets, tarpaulin sheets, solar lamps, and a hygiene kit have been distributed to 2,417 families already—covering 12,085 people, including 5,076 children. The next initiatives will include Cash Transfers, education kits, school kits and livelihood support. 5000 vulnerable households will be entitled to INR. 7,100 under the Cash Transfer scheme—which gives families the freedom to decide their own priorities.
The Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Kedarnath, Shailarani Rawat, had told Save the Children about the needs of the affected people and, in particular, the children: “There is a huge amount of rations, blankets, biscuits and water bottles reaching the relief centres but what we need more are clothes, utensils and cooking stoves. What children will need in the coming months would be school uniforms and textbooks.” Adding to this, Pradeep Kumar, Team Leader of Save the Children’s initial response team, who is now based in Rishikesh, said “The immediate needs of children in Uttarakhand are supplementary nutrition, educational support and cash support for expenses. Also, there is an immediate requirement of psycho-social support for the children who have suffered shock and trauma.”
Overall, Save the Children plans to extend humanitarian assistance to 10,000 households for which the team has established a state level field office and 4 district level bases and two warehouses in Rishikesh, from where it is coordinating the flood response work which is expected to last for at least nine months. It has also set up 10 Child Friendly Spaces/Temporary Learning Centres in 10 villages — the overall target is to have 40 in 4 districts. In all, 18 Health Camps covering 1772 children and adults have been conducted in Uttarkashi district. A variety of corporates and institutional donors — along with support of celebrities like Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor — have already come forward to lend their valuable support.
The lack of information about the needs of affected people has, till now, created confusion and led to a somewhat chaotic response. Sadly, many of the most affected people either perished or underwent extreme hardships to fend for themselves during the critical part following the disaster, with little shelter, food or medicines available to them. Those who have survived need a generous and strong response now, especially in terms of psycho-social support and their challenging livelihood needs. Children and Women, who are often the worst-affected during emergencies, would continue to need special attention. All in all, now we know that it’s going to take a lot to rebuild flood-ravaged Uttarakhand so it’s time — for all those who can support — to develop and deliver a robust recovery plan.
(The writer is National Manager – Media & Communication with Save the Children ([email protected])