'Lethal Breeding Ground' for Post-Flood Diseases Raises Fears in India

Victims of India's worst flood in recent memory are now faced with the increasing fear of water-borne diseases as flooding from two weeks of rains are finally receding.

Although the receding monsoon floods in India have paved the way for aid agencies and authorities to brainstorm and work for the rebuilding of people's lives, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have warned that stagnant waters are "a lethal breeding ground" for diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

"Disease is a major threat, starting with colds and fevers from exposure and living in the open for an extended amount of time. Children are also suffering from diarrhea, and the fear of other water borne diseases is very real," said Reena Samuel, the communications coordinator for Christian aid group World Vision, who is on the ground to help with the relief efforts.

In areas like Uttar Pradesh, the situation is still very serious with people having made homes from carts and torn pieces of tarpaulin along the embankments surrounding the highways.

Doctors have treated at least 1,500 people in Uttar Pradesh for diarrhea in the past 10 days, said L.B. Prasad, director-general of the state's health services. Rai's group said the scope of the suffering was greater, with more than 22,000 people coming down with waterborne disease.

"This is the worst flooding we've seen for nearly a decade and it will affect children for months to come. Children are already facing a lack of food and water and are at risk of disease from dirty flood water," said Gareth Owen, who heads the emergency response for Save the Children.

The charity organization is aiming to raise £2 million ($4 million) to supply food, drinking water, shelter and medicines across the region.

At least 2,090 people have died so far from this year's particularly calamitous South Asia monsoon season and a total of more than 30 million in South Asia have been affected by this flood.

Monsoon season in South Asia is a normal, annual event which is essential for the region's agriculture. However, the season – which runs from June to September – always carries threats of flooding the region.

Authorities say this year's floods have caused more damages than the previous water floods that happened in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

"The floods have completely destroyed more than 31,000 homes in Bihar, 10,000 in Assam state and even took the lives of more than 583 people. Many are homeless, stranded and vulnerable to deadly diseases," an undersecretary in Bihar's Disaster Management Department, Satish Chandra Jha, said.

"Priority would be to help fund the rebuilding of homes in the affected area," he added. The department also wants to build the houses out of brick on higher ground.

Meanwhile, UNICEF has estimated that up to 5 million children in Bihar will not be able to go to school due to either schools being flooded or are being used as shelters.

"Resuming education itself is the best psychological counseling for kids, even if it's under a tree," said Job Zachariah, acting head of UNICEF in Bihar.

Amid all the chaos and concerns, Christian aid agencies worldwide are collectively working full-fledged in the devastated areas.

The Discipleship Centre (DC), a partner agency of U.K.-based Tearfund, has been distributing emergency food relief to some 2,500 families in the Darbhanga district in Bihar state, which has been submerged under five feet of water, according to Tearfund's regional adviser in India, Prince David.

The Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA), another group working in partnership with Tearfund, has distributed relief kits to families in the East Champaran district, as well as in Bihar, where 70,000 homes have been washed away.

Other Christian organizations – including World Vision, Christian Aid, Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR), and Canadian Food for the Hunger International – and their partners in various states and regions are also trying their best to reach out to the victims.

 Christian Today correspondents Bei Chatlai Beita and Dibin Samuel in New Delhi contributed to this article.