Flood Preparedness: Staying Afloat

Did you know that September is National Preparedness Month? My reports this month are going to focus on various natural disasters and how to be ready to weather the storms. This week – monsoons!

Monsoon Crisis

Five days of heavy and unrelenting monsoon rains in the Kashmir regions of northern India and Pakistan have killed over 120 in India and 160 in Pakistan in landslides and flash floods. In India, 450 villages are submerged and 2,000 others have been affected, while in Pakistan the floods have hit at least 286 villages and collapsed over 4,000 homes. Rescuers in both countries are attempting to reach thousands of stranded citizens, though their efforts are being hampered by fast-moving floodwaters. For example, even though the rains had stopped on Sunday, the overflow from the Jhulem River was moving too quickly to allow boats to reach those in need. In Srinagar, a major city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, the floodwaters were 12 feet deep, with entire houses completely under water. Even the state’s maternity hospital was flooding, forcing patients and staff to flee to higher floors of the building. The Indian Prime Minister has described the situation as a “national level disaster.”

Image courtesy of weather.com

Image courtesy of weather.com

Image courtesy of weather.com

Image courtesy of weather.com

National Response: India & Pakistan

“I would like to assure the people of the state that it is not their crisis alone. It is a crisis for the whole country,” the Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi said. In response India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has sent 70 boats and five rescue teams to aid the flood-affected people, and control rooms have been set up in the cities of Srinagar, Jammu, and New Delhi to monitor and coordinate rescue and relief operations.  Additionally, the Indian Air Force airlifted 180 soldiers from various border-posts in the area (Kashmir marks the border between India and Pakistan and control of the area has been a major point of contention between the two nations). The Air Force has also evacuated 627 citizens in the area.  Modi also met with Pakistan Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and offered 100,000 blankets, 5,000 tents and 50 tons of milk powder for flood victims. Pakistan has sent 120 army units and 80 teams of police reservist to the area and relocated at least 13,000 of those trapped in the area.

Image Courtesy of bbc.com

Image Courtesy of bbc.com

Public Health Analysis

The monsoon season ravages India and Pakistan each year from June – September.  Each year the impact of the monsoons appears more extensive, and the reason for the increasing devastation is multi-factorial.  Climate change is affecting weather patterns. Urbanization and development are leading to increased homes and buildings, which means less soil to absorb rainfall. Population growths bring a greater density of people into flood regions and more people are at risk and vulnerable with each flood. To reduce the impact of annual monsoons on these regions, the local and national public health authorities and policy makers will need to make a concerted effort to elevate the resilience of these communities to be able to better respond to these public health crises: planning, training, availability of resources, higher standards for buildings, zoning of development.

Resources

Health Hazards of Floods from WHO:

  • Drowning is leading cause of death
  • Glass debris and nails can cause lacerations or puntures
  • Electrocution and electric shocks
  • Increased risk of water and vector borne diseases
    • Cholera, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Diarrhea, Dysentary
    • Malaria, Dengue
    • Direct contact with contaminated water can lead to dermatitis, conjunctivitis, ear/nose/throat infections, wound infections, leptospirosis
    • Exposure to water and rain can lead to hypothermia and respiratory tract infections
  • Basic public health services like safe water, adequate sanitation and food can be severely impaired

FEMA’s Ready.Gov website offers these tips on preparing for flooding:

  • Build an emergency kit and make a family communication plan
  • Avoid building in a floodplain, if you must be sure to elevate and reinforce your home
  • Find your flood risk using FEMA Flood Maps 
  • Consider purchasing Flood Insurance
  • Elevate the furnace, water heater and electric panel if you live in a high risk area
  • Install ‘check valves’ to prevent flood water from backing up into the drains of your home
  • Construct barriers to stop floodwater from entering the building and seal walls in basements with waterproofing compounds
  • Know that 6 inches of water can reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and stalling
  • A foot of water will float vehicles
  • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles (including SUVs and pickups)
  • Never try to walk, swim, drive or play in flooded water or near storm drains, ditches, ravines, creek beds or stream banks. Be watchful for snakes.

The Disaster Center also offers these specific and in-depth tips.

Report written by Vidya Eswaran

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