As floodwaters recede, families will continue to face the impact of the floods for days ahead
When the floodwaters rushed in, ten-year-old Barsha and her family had to hurry to a shelter, leaving behind everything. The cramped shelter in Gowainghat of Sylhet, one of the worst-affected districts, provided respite from the rising water. But, with no tube wells or taps nearby, Barsha had to go without clean drinking water for days.
“It was really hard for me and my family to get drinking water since the floodwaters rushed in and we arrived at the shelter,” she says after receiving water purification tablets delivered by UNICEF. “Now we can finally have a drink of water. It is the first clean water I have had in days!”
A crisis of clean water and sanitation
Barsha is among the 3.5 million children whose lives have been disrupted by floods in north-eastern Bangladesh. Floodwaters in the affected districts have severely damaged almost 45,000 water points and 50,000 sanitation facilities, leaving sheltering families with no access to clean water or latrines. On top of the food shortage, increased risk of drowning, separation from families and violence, children are at increased risk of waterborne diseases.
Mothers are worried, as more children come down with diseases due to lack of clean water. As one mother explains: “We haven’t had clean water in days. My children have gotten sick in the shelter drinking dirty water.”
Like Barsha, 12-year-old Panna too had to leave her home in Jaintapur, Sylhet for an overcrowded shelter.
“There are so many families staying together at the shelter that I can’t use the toilet. It is dirty, and with so many people around, I don’t feel comfortable going,” Panna says.
Instead, she has been travelling all the way to her submerged home miles away from her shelter, just to use the toilet. For Panna, wading through contaminated floodwaters every day means an increased risk of diseases, drowning and separation from her family.
A long road to recovery
The floods struck at a time when people in the area were still recovering from the floods that hit last month. The waters swept away homes, inundated farmlands and disrupted power supplies.
Families were forced to seek higher ground at a moment’s notice, leaving their possessions behind. Over 400,000 people were evacuated to safety centres with support from the military. Thousands of schools have been damaged and are now closed – further disrupting the education of millions of children who missed out on learning due to school closures during the pandemic.
Since the floods started, UNICEF has delivered over a million water purification tablets, thousands of water containers, dignity and hygiene kits, and therapeutic milk for affected families. To protect children, who are at an even higher risk of abuse, violence, drowning and separation, UNICEF has been working with the Government to disseminate prevention messages among communities.
But the impact of the flood will be felt by affected families for some time to come and the need for clean water and sanitation remains high. Waters in some affected areas have already started receding as the number of people affected by waterborne diseases continue to rise. Health facilities, many damaged by the waters, are struggling to offer services and prevent an outbreak of serious diseases.
Damaged water supplies, latrines, homes, schools and hospitals need to be rebuilt and repaired. In the meantime, families who have lost everything in the floods need to be ensured food, clean water, latrines, and shelter.
Children continue to be the most vulnerable, and their protection – whether from violence, drowning or disease – must be ensured. No child should have to face what children like Barsha and Panna are facing today.
UNICEF is urgently seeking US $45.7 million to support the Government’s emergency response and reach the affected population with immediate and medium-term interventions.