Contaminated Drinking Water Causes Concern in Northeast India

Tens of thousands of people will be without safe drinking water for months as flooding continues in India’s Assam state

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is suffering from its worst flooding in three decades. Millions were made homeless by incessant rains, which have submerged most of the state and killed 117 people.    

“The main sources of drinking water, such as hand pumps and wells, are submerged in the flood waters, so communities are taking their water supplies directly from the river," which is contaminated, said Ram Kishan, Christian Aid’s regional emergency manager of South Asia. "Use of this water will inevitably lead to diarrhea, dysentery and other waterborne diseases. Christian Aid will be reaching these communities with water purification tablets, construction of sanitary blocks in the camps and installation of hand pumps to stop the situation deteriorating."
“Christian Aid is responding in Dhemaji, one of the most affected districts in Assam—including the Machkhowa block, an area that has not faced floods for more than a decade. We are planning to reach almost 50,000 people in the district. Our work will concentrate on water, sanitation and hygiene,” Kishan said.

Christian Aid’s Country Director in India Anand Kumar said, “Complicating the situation is violence in the western part of Assam, an area also facing flooding, where ethnic conflict is leading to a massive humanitarian crisis, which has seen more than 30 killed and 40,000 displaced, putting extra pressure on state authorities."

The floods have been caused by exceptionally heavy and continuous monsoon rains that started in June and caused Assam’s main river, the Brahmaputra, to break its banks, causing flooding in villages. In some, where flooding is a rare event, communities were underprepared and have suffered intensely. The water levels in certain villages are now as high as the water levels of the Brahamaputra River, and will continue to rise up and down with the water level of the river until the end of the monsoon, when embankments can be fixed.  
Ghasi Lal Gujar, Christian Aid’s emergency program officer, said some communities have been forced to stay on these embankments because they cannot get back to their villages, so continuing monsoon could mean more disaster.

“The weak embankments, which are barely 10 to 20 ft in width, are overcrowded, and living conditions are deteriorating everyday. There is no safe drinking water, no toilets. Contaminated water will affect people’s health, and health facilities can be up to five hours away. This is the situation now—in three months it will be a lot worse. Those in camps will not be able to return to their homes for three months, and all affected communities face similar problems with clean water supplies," Gujar said.

There are also more long-term concerns, Ghasi said. "This year’s floods have been more severe than previous ones. Waters have brought debris from mining activities and sand from breaching embankments, which have destroyed large areas of agriculture. Over 250,000 hectares of crop land has been flooded, and over 50% of these crops have been lost."

Christian Aid

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