I have just returned from North Bihar after working for a week in the area affected by the floods. My mind is filled with memories that will not fade away easily. This is my second experience of relief work, and it is very different from the first one (Orissa Cyclone I want to share with you some of my personal encounters and experiences that touched me deeply. One can call this "a woman's perspective".
On 30th July, 2004, three medical teams of 20 persons--nurses, social workers, doctors, and volunteers--set off towards three districts of flood affected areas. They are Mothihari, Muzaffapur and Samastipur. I was in Mothihari district. We were only 5 in the team. The presence of one more rscj, Sr. Prisca, gave me great comfort. She was a great asset to the team. In Mothihari two more persons joined us. Our accommodation was arranged in an NGO, Samajik Sudham Vikas Kendre, 40 kilometres away from Mothihari town.
A few general impressions
Women and children are the most affected victims of this flood
I personally came across around 50 new born children who were born during the flood Some children were born into the water, women could not lie down during the delivery due to water, and they had to be satisfied in a sitting position with water all around. Some women kept the baby without cutting the umbilical cord for two to three days since they did not know how to do it.
Women after delivery had no food or safe drinking water. Some say that they were given chappati* and salt and a few had chewda.* Many babies were born at night which added to the problem--no light, no telephone, no boat service; anxiety was a common factor for all. All women had to wait for six days to have a bath--this is the local custom.
Many experienced very difficult childbirth since untrained persons were helping them. They tried to push the child out including breach babies. Excessive bleeding, anaemia, prolapsed uterus, infection in newborns and in women etc was commonly seen among all these cases.
None of the women were taken to the hospital after the flood, no matter in what condition they were, because they can&Mac226;t differentiate between what is normal and what is abnormal with regard to bleeding, anaemia etc. Whatever happens after the delivery is accepted as "normal".
Some exceptional cases:
- In Seersha village of Mothihari district, Sonia Devi of 23 years old, waited for one whole day and night with labour, as the mother in law did not know how to help her. A "dai" (untrained but practising mid-wife) was called but could not arrive due to flood--finally her mother in law decided to push the child out, she did not know anything about 'the birth cry'. The child cried after half hour only. She had no breast milk for three days. Hence milk from a goat was given to the baby.
- Chinta Devi of Jhakhara Pratyatola (25 years) delivered her fifth child in the same circumstances as mentioned above. However, she had a Œdai&Mac226; with her. After the delivery, she experienced thrilling and glorious moments because she gave birth to a boy. Her previous four children were girls. As a result she forgot all her pain. Nevertheless, the child is not well due to chest cold. She refused to bathe the child thinking that he will catch more cold. The baby's body was full of boils when I saw the child. It was his sixth day without a bath.
- In this village there were 15 newborns -- all born during the flood, and all are suffering from chest cold.
- In this village, 25 houses have fallen down. In some of these houses, children were there when the roof collapsed. Many were injured but did not die.
- Dhukhia Devi of Jhakhara Balua Musahar toli** was carried on a bed on the shoulders of four men to a hospital which was 18 kilometres away. At home, she had already struggled for two days with labour. Two hours after her delivery in the hospital, she was carried back in the same manner.
- In the same village, there were five newborns. In all five cases, the family built up a small bamboo bed for the woman in labour which was supported by 4-5 pieces of 4 feet long bamboos - because, underneath, they had 3 feet high water and it was raining heavily. All five are affected with cold and cough. They had nothing to cover them.
- In this village out of 350 houses, 250 have collapsed. All people are safe because all were taken earlier to a higher place.
A special report on Haraj Imarthi Musahar toli -- the most affected toli among all the other areas I visited
The entire village was under water -- 5 to 6 feet high water inside the houses.
One kilometre away, there was a road and a bridge which was above the water level. The entire village, (more than 100 families) their belongings including the animals parked there for 21 days. The NGO „Samajik Sudham Vikas Kendre, Mehsi went on the boat with safe drinking water in huge tanks to prevent diarrhoea and cholera. Each family was given 6 kg. of chewda too by the same NGO. That was their main food for 21 days. The govt. never came into the picture. A few times, they had common cooking with whatever they had and shared with all.
All the houses are still very damp. There are very many TB and kalazar cases, which add to their problems. Most of the houses are either damaged or collapsed.
Services done by our medical team
- Medical check ups followed by treatment: No. of villages covered including tolas 35.
- Number of patients covered: 1362
- Number of children covered only for worm treatment: 453
- Identifying T.B. cases and Kalazzar*** cases separately for referral
- Identifying various immediate needs of women who had child birth during the flood (this was done by the social workers and volunteers in the team)
- Visiting the families and listening to them.
- Giving health education to prevent further sickness/infection etc. (Diarrhoea was one of the most common cases)
Challenges faced by the team
Everyday we were travelling more than 100 kilometres through damaged and dusty roads. 4 to 6 hours travel and another 6 to 8 hours spending time with villagers -- this was our normal timetable for one week. We did not have gynaecologists with us to handle infections related to deliveries. We did not have any professional doctors, only RMPS. There are no good hospitals in the entire district. Sending serious cases to govt hospital was not in any way a solution to the problem.
Despite all the problems and difficulties we faced, we have the satisfaction that we were able to do a lot as a team. Listening to women's stories was a God experience for me. We wanted to reach out to the unreached and that was done to some extent. Out of 22 flood affected districts the Patna team covered three districts, although partially. There was tremendous team spirit, which added another colourful dimension to the quality of our work. In and through all my experiences, I was often reminded of one thing: We cannot control the length of our life, but we can control and contribute to its breadth, depth and height. Ours was a motivated, dedicated and energetic team. No one fell sick. We learned a lot from the people. Travelling in the boat was a new experience for some in the group. It was very inspiring to see the hospitality of the people. Ours was the first team that had reached them with medicines and health care. From the government they had received Rs.100/- per family and 25 kg wheat.
I take this opportunity to thank all the Organizations and Individuals that supported us to make this visit possible. "Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately."
Thanking you for all your support and prayers,
N.I. Sophie rscj
*Chappati: flour pancake
chewda : a mixure of beaten rice with some peanuts. It is the poor persons's food in North India.
** toli (pl. tola ): hamlet
*** kalazzar: a disease. It is the enlargement of spleen as a result of one particular sandfly bite. These are found only in North India, in places like Bihar. This disease is more dangerous than T.B. The person looks like a T.B. patient, but the disease is not T.B.