MSF Providing Medical Care and Emergency Distributions in India's Flooded Bihar Region

Two MSF teams have begun providing medical care to flood victims in the northeastern Indian state of Bihar, where it has also started conducting the first emergency relief distributions in various locations and displaced camps, as well as necessary assessments in the districts of Araria (the most affected area), Supaul, Purnia, and Madhepura.

With roads becoming passable again, MSF staff have organized mobile clinics in several locations to address medical needs of the populations, particularly in the western areas of Araria District, which has not as of yet received relief. Last Tuesday, for example, over one hundred medical consultations were carried out only in the Parwaha area.

The people displaced by the floods have gathered in makeshift camps, with some out in the open and others sheltered in structures such as schools. All are facing dire sanitation conditions amidst a considerable presence of cattle; access to drinking water is limited to some hand-pumps, and there are too few latrines and a lack of hygiene facilities and items (showers, soap, etc…).

Officials estimate that roughly 50 camps in such conditions are currently hosting about 30,000 people. Moreover, nearly 400,000 people possibly trapped in areas rendered isolated by the water might arrive in these camps when the water recedes. Some areas are still under water and access is not yet possible.

“So far no epidemic outbreaks have been reported,” said Bjorn Nissen, MSF head of mission in India. “Yet we need to be on the alert and ready to respond immediately, because when the water level decreases the situation could worsen. We are also concerned because there are many pockets of people we have not been able to reach.”

To date, MSF has sent five relief trucks loaded with 15,500 plastic sheetings for shelter, 4,200 blankets, 15,000 jerry cans, 15,000 bars of soap, and 3,000 water chlorination tablets, to provide for an initial 7,500 families.

The identified priority areas for the coming days include Bhargama, Narpatganj (both in Araria), Banmakee (in Purnia, where growing needs are being reported), as well as Chhatapur (Supaul), a badly affected area where access is not possible yet.

The most pressing needs for the population still include food, plastic sheeting for shelter, water purifying tablets, kitchen utensils, and hygiene kits. In order to prevent and treat diseases—mainly those related to poor water quality—oral rehydration salts and medical care are essential.

MSF has eight workers on the field—mainly from its project in Bihar for kala azar patients—among them doctors and other sanitary personnel, logisticians, and experts in water and sanitation. Another exploratory mission team is on its way to the affected area and will evaluate the needs and possible reinforcement of the teams already working.