2008 Massive Flood in India

The Massive India flood strands millions

Past RI President Saboo (middle, above) listens to residents affected by the massive August flooding in Bihar, India. At right: flood victims make their way to refugee relief camps. Photos courtesy of Saboo Past RI President Rajendra Saboo who visited the Saharsa District of Bihar, India, last week to survey the devastation caused by August's massive floods.

The Kosi River in Bihar, one of India's poorest states, overflowed its banks in August after torrential rainfall from heavy monsoons caused a dam to burst in southern Nepal, setting off the worst flooding in 50 years. Millions of people have been displaced, and hundreds of villages are under water in northeast India.

"These are unprecedented conditions. Bihar presented a deadly picture of devastation," says Saboo, a resident in the Union Territory of Chandigarh. "We saw the human spirit fight for survival."

During a two-day visit to the region, Saboo, accompanied by Past Governor Ranjit Bhatia of District 3080 (India), met Governor Lal Bahadur Singh of District 3250 (India) to tour affected areas and assess Rotary's response so far.

"I'm happy to see how Rotary clubs and districts from all over the country are responding," says Saboo. "Rotarians are doing a good job during the intermediate relief stage. As the rehabilitation stage nears, I believe Rotary has tremendous potential of doing good, as we have in many other natural disasters."

Relief aid trucks have been coming in from districts throughout the country. Districts 3131 and 3140 have already sent trucks full of medicine, food, clothes, and blankets. Two doctors from District 3100 arrived to provide medical care. Because areas in Bihar are so ravaged by the flood and conditions are still too dangerous to return, nearly half of the 1.2 million people left homeless are in government and relief agency camps.

Homecoming kits - The Rotary Club of Calcutta-Mahanagar plans to send 3,500 ghar wapasi -- or homecoming -- kits, each of which provides comprehensive shelter relief for a family of four, including two roof tarps, a kerosene stove, cooking supplies, 500 chlorine tablets, toothpaste, a mosquito net, and other consumables.

Rotarian volunteers have arrived in Bihar to help distribute kits and other aid to camp refugees as well as families stranded deep inside swampy villages. Saboo said the main need for people in the flood zones is basic medical care.

As the water recedes, Saboo fears the crowded and often unsanitary conditions in refugee camps could lead to outbreaks of water- and airborne diseases. Rotary districts in India also are arranging accommodations for visiting volunteer doctors who are coming to provide preventive care in the refugee camps, he adds.

Under the guidance of RI Director Ashok M. Mahajan, funds collected by Rotary in India will be leveraged with support of the RI community and The Rotary Foundation.

Saboo admits to being moved by the spirit and determination of those affected by the flood. "One thing that hit me hard was the realization and the appreciation of the power and strength of these people."

"Rotary's compassion and action will make the difference for victims,"says Saboo. "This is the time when the sincerity of purpose will bring a sense of tremendous satisfaction far more than any recognition or credit."

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