Post-flood situation: Testing time for Govt

EXCESSIVE rainfall and flooding normally associated with the monsoons compared with acute scarcity of potable water during the short dry spells have been two starkly contrasting characteristics of Manipur for the past many years. With the state already facing the wrath of nature, possibility of outbreak of water-borne diseases cannot be ruled out in case authorities concerned do not chalk up effective mechanism to contain the flood-related health issues. The state’s vulnerability to severe flooding during the monsoon is being vividly demonstrated year after year, and the same story is playing out this year too, as the government effort to tackle the chronic flood problem in the form of dredging of bed of some major rivers and strengthening or levelling the embankments for smooth flow of the rising water level is yet to yield any positive result. Many of those lucky to have been rescued from the submerged houses and those areas where disastrous consequences have been prevented owe it to alert members of Manipur Mountaineering and Trekking Association, National Disaster Response Force personnel, police recruits, local volunteers and of course public representatives, including ministers, MLAs and bureaucrats. But such response systems naturally have limited efficacy in predominantly rural pockets as is evident from people in flooded areas continuing to struggle to cope with normal life. Regardless of health minister L Jayantakumar stating that rapid action forces have been formed to specifically contain out-break of diseases in the post-flood scenario, what stands out in the annual cycle of floods is the generally tardy pace of preparation for rescue and relief operation.

Capacity-building to handle catastrophic weather events has been normally poor in the state, and all flood situations only expose lack of preparedness or delay in paying serious attention to setting up relief camps, creating crisis-proof health infrastructure and distribution of rations and medicines. The collapse of systems in acute conditions is undoubtedly a reflection of the lack of robust regular services that could be upgraded for emergencies. Damage to water and sanitation infrastructure, coupled with power cuts, destruction of roads, and the closure of local healthcare centres, bring with it the potential for a public health crisis. Flooding is mostly associated with outbreak of water-borne and vector-borne diseases as a result of damage to water and sanitation services and population displacement. Furthermore, diarrhoeal diseases, such as cholera, can spread through contamination of drinking water and the environment because people are forced to collect dirty water and practice open defecation. Immediate interventions that target water, sanitation and hygiene must be made accessible to the flood-hit people along with ensuring them temporary toilets, safe drinking water and hygienic food. The flood hit communities, those susceptible individuals in particular, such as ill people, older individuals and children, and individuals who are disabled will now be looking forward for substantial government and non-governmental support. Without prompt, coordinated, and sustained efforts to improve the water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions, the number of lives lost to disease might outnumber those lost during the floods. Prevention and response coupled with disease surveillance will also help reduce future susceptibility to flood-related disease outbreaks.

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