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In India, Caritas grapples with disaster relief

Volatile weather patterns catch communities off guard

Ritu Sharma, Delhi

Ritu Sharma, Delhi

Published: August 20, 2015 08:38 AM GMT

Updated: August 19, 2015 10:22 PM GMT

In India, Caritas grapples with disaster relief

A Caritas worker at a house damaged after floods in Manipur in eastern India. (Photo courtesy of Caritas India) 

As India grapples with flooding across the country, officials from Caritas India said the organization was actively working to deal with the fallout of changing climate patterns.

More than 150 people have died in recent weeks as heavy monsoon rains have hit several states, triggering flash floods.

The situation is particularly grim in Assam in India's northeast, where more than 200,000 people are affected by the floods. In seven districts of the state, 280 villages have been flooded and 12,000 hectares of crop are currently under water.

“This is a disturbing phenomenon. Due to excessive rains, floods are coming at places where people least expect it and are not prepared for the natural calamity,” Father Frederick D'Souza, executive director of Caritas India, told ucanews.com on Aug. 20.

In the last two years, said Father D'Souza, the country has witnessed a huge loss of life and property due to floods in the hilly areas of Uttarakhand and Kashmir where people had rarely encountered such disasters before.

Attributing the increasing flash floods to global warming and climate change, the priest said that the changing weather patterns have grave implications for the farmers of the country.

“Due to these changes, farmers are struggling with drought, floods and delayed monsoons across the country, which is affecting their crops and on a larger level, their livelihood,” he added.


Youth play a vital role

Over the past decade, Caritas India has worked hard to keep up with the demand.

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According to a report released on Aug. 19 by the social service agency for World Humanitarian Day, 1 million people have benefited from the group's emergency response initiatives.

According to the report, Caritas responded to 14 emergencies including tsunamis, earthquakes, flash floods and cyclones that hit the country during the past decade. The work focused primarily on the sectors of health, food, livelihood, vocational training, shelter and education.

“During this past decade, we not only provided relief and rehabilitation but also offered psycho-social support to people as the psychological effects, pain and suffering remain for a long time after any disaster,” Father D'Souza said.

A panel discussion held at the report launch in Delhi also shed light on the importance of youth in disaster management.

“Whenever a natural disaster happens, it is the local youth who respond first — even without training. So it has always been our concern on how to train the local communities so that they can respond to such emergencies more effectively,” the priest said, adding that whenever Caritas India has trained the local youth to meet such emergencies, they have seen positive results.

Murli, senior manager for the humanitarian and disaster rescue reduction department of Plan India, who also took part in the discussion, agreed youth mobilization was key.

“We have the largest youth brigade in the country, they have a major responsibility to be aware and make others aware of the disasters and the relief and rescue work needed," said Murli, who uses a single name.

He said that the government, too, should minimally train the Indian youth in carrying out rescue operations at home.

“We cannot always depend on the national disaster teams to come from outside the area and start the rescue operations. It is the local youth who can come in handy in times of need.”

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