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Contaminated drinking water sparks serious concern in Assam

July 25 2012 -Tens of thousands of people will be without safe drinking water for months as flooding continues in India’s Assam state, making them vulnerable to life-threatening conditions such as diarrhoea and dysentery. 
The north-eastern Indian state of Assam is suffering from its worst flooding in three decades. Millions were made homeless by incessant rains which have submerged most of the state and killed 117 people. 
Ram Kishan, Christian Aid’s Regional Emergency Manager South Asia, said:  ‘The main sources of drinking water, such as hand pumps and wells, are submerged in the flood waters so communities are taking their water supplies directly from the river. Lack of sanitary facilities in camps and villages mean this water is contaminated.
‘Use of this water will inevitably lead to diarrhoea, dysentery and other water-borne diseases. Christian Aid will be reaching these communities with water purification tablets, construction of sanitary blocks in the camps and installation of hand pumps to stop the situation deteriorating.
‘Christian Aid is responding in Dhemaji, one of the most affected districts in Assam – including the Machkhowa block, an area which has not faced floods for more than a decade.  We are planning to reach almost 50,000 people in the district. Our work will concentrate on water, sanitation and hygiene,’ he added.

Anand Kumar Christian Aid’s Country Director in India said: ‘Complicating the situation is violence in the western part of Assam, an area also facing flooding, where ethnic conflict is leading to a massive humanitarian crisis, which has seen more than 30 killed and 40,000 displaced, putting extra pressure on state authorities.’ 

The floods have been caused by exceptionally heavy and continuous monsoon rains which started in June and have caused Assam’s main river, the Brahmaputra, to break its banks, causing flooding in villages.  In some, where flooding is a rare event, communities were underprepared and have suffered intensely. 
The water levels in certain villages are now as high as the water levels of the Brahamaputra river, and will continue to rise up and down with the water level of the river until the end of the monsoon, when embankments can be fixed. 
Ghasi Lal Gujar, Christian Aid’s Emergency Programme Officer who has just returned from visiting the affected areas, said: ‘Some communities have been forced to stay on these embankments as they cannot get back to their villages so continuing monsoon could spell more disaster.

‘The weak embankments, which are barely 10 to 20 feet in width, are overcrowded and living conditions are deteriorating every day, there is no safe drinking water, no toilets.  Contaminated water will affect people’s health, and health facilities can be up to 5 hours away.  This is the situation now – in three months it will be a lot worse. 
‘Those in camps will not be able to return to their homes for three months and all affected communities face similar problems with clean water supplies.

‘There are also longer term concerns,’ added Ghasi. ‘This year’s floods have been more severe than previous ones.  Waters have brought debris from mining activities and sand from breaching embankments – which have destroying large areas of agriculture.  Over 250,000 hectares of crop land has been flooded and over 50% of these crops have been lost.’

Christian Aid is also working in Bangladesh where families are also fighting for survival following torrential rains.

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To arrange an interview with Ram or if you would like further information please contact Jo Rogers on 020 7523 2460 or jrogers@christian-aid.org . 24 hour press duty phone – 07590 710 942

Notes to Editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in 47 countries. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people build the lives they deserve.

2. Christian Aid has a vision, an end to global poverty, and we believe that vision can become a reality. Our report, Poverty Over, explains what we believe needs to be done – and can be done – to end poverty.  Details at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/poverty-over-report.pdf

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 100 churches and church-related organisations that work together inhumanitarian assistance and development.  Further details at http://www.actalliance.org

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5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit www.christianaid.org.uk