Activists and independent reporters have attributed the flood crisis in Uttarakhand to the unplanned development of dams, roads and tourist traffic as the major reason. Four districts of the state Chamoli, Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh have been seriously affected by the present disaster. In its emergency response ActionAid India is intervening in Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts. I was working in the Chamoli district where Actionaid is intervening in 36 villages in four blocks Joshimath, Tharali, Naranbagad and Dewal. The relief operation in the district is facilitated by JANDESH, an LRP of Action aid operating from Joshimath.
As part of the relief support, ActionAid India, with the help of its partner organization JANDESH, is proving food items as well as non food items to the disaster affected families. It was planned to distribute food items and blanket to 700 families, Hygiene kit to 600 women, Tarpaulin, Solar lantern and Utensils to 150, 600 and 289 families respectively. A fifteen member team of Jandesh is fully involved in the relief work supported by six volunteers from the disaster affected villages.
Road transport has been seriously affected. As per the rough estimate by Government of Uttarakhand more than 2000 roads which have been affected or badly damaged. The Border Road Organization (BRO) is struggling hard to keep the National Highway No. 58, which connects Joshimath to Deheradun functional but, condition of internal roads is getting worse.
Urgam valley, 15 kilometres from Joshimath is one such example, where ActionAid is working on disaster response. It is difficult to reach there even on foot. The valley has 12 villages with a population of more than 3500. According to Mr. Harish Rawat, Programme Coordinator Jandesh, it may take years to get it functional. The damaged roads are affecting transportation of relief material, emergency stuff and even patients. According to Rama Bhandari, president of Penkhanda Mahila Parishad a local CBO, whom so ever could afford it have sent their pregnant women to nearby towns, fearing continuing landslides causing roadblocks could affect in case of emergencies.
Local people mostly depended upon tourism related employment and agriculture both of which has been hit badly from the disaster. After huge numbers of deaths, destruction and lack of transport and communication the inflow of tourists has completely stopped.
The disaster hit the region during the peak tourist season and now majority of the hotels in Joshimath have already shut down and huge numbers of people employed in tourism and related sector have lost their source of livelihood. The devastated flood also washed away meagre cultivable lands available to the local population as majority of the agricultural lands were close to the rivers in most of the villages.
In Pandukeswar village where ActionAid is working almost all of the cultivable land has been washed away along with 3-4 houses as the river changed its course there.
While discussing with one of the coordinators of GMR foundation which runs a library and child recreation center in Pandukeswar village, she was of the view that they used to struggle to accommodate all children in their hall prior to the disaster, now only few children turn up to the center. During the discussion with the children’s group it came out clearly that children get scared whenever it rained and avoided venturing out of home. According to Mr. Dharam Sing Negi, assistant teacher in the Government primary school Devgram, opening up the school has come as a big relief for children. He told that it took children more than 15 days to resume their schooling. This shows the psychological trauma the children are going in the aftermath of the flood.
In some of the disaster affected villages school building has been either damaged or declared unfit for use. This forced the school authorities to accommodate children in any other public building available in the village.
In the Pandukeswar village the government school building has been declared unfit for use and all children from the school have been relocated to one room in the GMR foundation’s library, which is now affecting the schooling of the children. Priyanka, 13 who is a member of Talla Barginda Bal Panchayat pointed out that girls’ toilet in their school got damaged during the flood and many girls are feeling uncomfortable to go to school. It shows there is a high chance of children specifically girls dropping out from the school if the issues was not addressed soon. The destruction of the roads also disrupted the supply of food material to schools and ICDS centers, which may disrupt the distribution of Midday Meal and hot cooked meal in schools and ICDS centers respectively. It can also affect the attendance of children in these institutions.
It was observed from the meeting with community and children that drinking water and sanitation are two issues that need to be addressed. For majority of families their source of drinking water is the perennial streams in their village from which water is mostly consumed unfiltered. The members of the children’s group were of the view that even if their school has water filters it was used only by their teachers and Mr. Dinesh Chandra from Urgam valley shared a list of twenty children from the region, studying in the colleges and engineering schools, possibly dropped out of it this year as their parents are unable to meet their study expenses due to loss of their livelihood. Most of the families were employed in tourism related sector. According to Mr. Chandra these are the first generation children who got in to higher education from their respective families.
The disaster has also led to the disruption of transport and communication particularly the road network in the region, which is also adversely affecting the local health services. It was reported by the local community in Pandukeswar and Barginda that the health services in general and even immunization of pregnant women and children has become very infrequent. The absence of health personnel along with delay in supply of vaccines to the affected villages is mentioned as the major reason. If not resumed in time it might have serious consequences on maternal and child health in the region.
The children wanted to know the reasons behind the flood in general and the cloud burst in particular. When one girl asked about the effect of flood on children Priti told: “abhi barish se bahut dar lagta hai” (we are very afraid of rain now).
Majority of children said that they preferred not to go to school when it rained. The children also shared their concern regarding the unsafe water being provided to them in the school and the girls’ toilet being damaged due to floods which is affecting girl’s children.
While discussing on emergency response, Priti questioned the reasons why children were not consulted before providing relief material to the affected families. She complained that the relief kits provided to their families did not contain any item for children. Then, the group listed out the items that should be part of each relief kit provided to families. According to the children relief kit should consist of books, Notebooks, story books, compass box, school bag, floaters, shoes and clothes for children, school uniform, milk powder, chocolates (specifically the long one), biscuits (both sweet and salty), play materials, toys, etc.
During the discussion Manisha made it a point that schools should be given water filter so that children can drink clean drinking water in the school. Children also were of the view that they can support the relief team in preparing the list of families with children.
The children’s group also felt shelters should be constructed in each village so that people can stay there during floods. According to the children such shelter should be built up in an area with a safe distance from river. The group was of the view that shelter should be built near a play ground and it should have a separate room for children with toys and play materials. The discussion with the children group shows that children see and think more holistically than adults and can articulate well with some facilitation.
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