MSF response to India floods emergency

© Thomas Kemmere/MSF Click for larger view

Around 1,000 people lost their lives during the floods, half of them in Bombay, the capital of Maharashtra state, situated in the western and central part of India. According to local authorities, 10,000 houses collapsed under the pressure of the water and more than 200,000 people are displaced from their homes.

Around 850,000 people live in the area of Kurla, 75% of them in slums badly damaged by the floods. MSF proposed to assist the Medical Service of Bombay Municipal Corporation and the authorities accepted a joint assessment. An MSF staff doctor and nurse were assigned to work in conjunction with the local health post staff in providing curative care.

"When we arrived in the slum on August 3, we had the impression of a big, muddy and extreme crowded dump," says Diana Linda, MSF Head of Mission in India. "I saw people standing in queues everywhere, they seemed resigned to waiting but did not appear despondent. No pushing or shoving, everyone stood patiently."

In some areas of the city the water reached 10 to 15 feet before receding, bringing huge destruction. Improving access to health care in the poorest areas, provide drinking water, latrines and a waste disposal system are now the priorities to avoid the spread of diseases.

"We think that around 500,000 people in Kurla might have no access to drinking water, give that the floods destroyed several water supplies," says Hans Ulens, MSF Water and Sanitation expert. "It's a huge task but we're now conducting an assessment to choose where we will intervene to provide safe water and latrines".

MSF has one mobile team on the ground with one doctor and one nurse ready to provide health care to the people who have no access to the health posts, as many of them have been flooded. On the first day of consultations, MSF saw 300 patients.

MSF started its projects in India in 1999. For six years, MSF has been supporting the Reviewed National Tuberculosis Program in Colaba (Bombay). Today MSF is working in cooperation with the Bombay Municipality Council and an association of HIV positive people to start an HIV/AIDS treatment project. Following the catastrophe of the tsunami last December, MSF responded by supporting the local emergency infrastructures in Tamil Nadu.