June 29, 2009

One month after cyclone Aila struck Bangladesh and the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, people continue to suffer from ongoing floods during high tide. Shelter, drinking water, food and sanitation are badly needed. People in remote areas have reportedly still not received any help.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is distributing relief items, provides basic health care and is checking and repairing water sources, assisting around 75,000 people in Bangladesh and 15,000 people in India who are affected by the aftermath of the cyclone.

Ongoing flooding

The floodwater destroyed houses, livestock, shrimp farms and agricultural lands. People live in makeshift shelters on the remaining parts of the embankments. Some villages continue to get flooded twice a day during high tide.

“People are up to their necks in the water,” says Rivkah van Barneveld, who is coordinating the emergency response in West Bengal. “Houses are either destroyed or flooded, most people can’t sleep dry. With the monsoon arriving very soon, shelter is one of the main priorities. MSF is providing families with plastic sheeting and blankets.”

Skin infections and diarrhea

Water supply systems and latrines have also been destroyed by the floods, increasing the spread of diarrhea and other communicable diseases. Lacking clean drinking water, people use water containing human waste for bathing, washing, and sometimes drinking.

Pre-existing health facilities in India are functioning relatively well. In the Bangladeshi flood-affected areas, MSF is running mobile clinics.

Emergency coordinator Megan Hunter says: “We’ve visited 10 different sites so far and see about 250 people a day, mainly for diarrhea or skin infections. MSF is distributing soap, buckets and chlorination tablets and shows people how to use them.”

In the next days, an additional emergency team with a water and sanitation specialist as well as medical staff and logisticians will travel to Bangladesh.

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