Flood-ravaged Orissa faces disease threat


India’s flood-hit Orissa state faced a growing threat of water-borne disease on Monday, as hundreds of thousands of marooned villagers struggled to find drinking water amid the devastation that has claimed 60 lives.

The state health department said nearly 2,000 cases of diarrhea had been reported from affected districts as of Monday, along with 20 cases of hepatitis.

Krishna Chandra Mohanty, chief administrator of one of the most heavily affected districts, Kendrapara, said he had already sent an SOS to the state government seeking more doctors and paramedics to combat the situation.

“It hasn’t reached epidemic proportions yet, but the danger is very much there if it carries on like this for much longer,” Mohanty said.

“The situation is very bad in Kendrapara,” agreed a doctor from a local NGO medical team.

“Diarrhea could become an epidemic as there is no safe water to drink and a virtual absence of proper medical support,” the doctor said.

The flooding has claimed 60 lives and affected more than seven million people in Orissa, which is still recovering from a massive cyclone that devastated the state in October 1999.

Around 500,000 people have been marooned for more than a week, relying on emergency air drops for food and forced to drink flood water as most wells have become inaccessible or contaminated. Many do not have adequate firewood to boil the water they collect.

“The priority now is to ensure that we can distribute as many water purification tablets and rehydration salts as soon as possible,” said Patrick Fuller, information officer with the International Federation of the Red Cross. “There have certainly been incidents of gastro-enteritis and diarrhea, but no major outbreaks so far,” Fuller said. “It’s very similar to the situation after the ’99 cyclone.”