Catholic Relief Services aids victims of monsoon flooding in India

IMG 20180818 WA0032 A man trapped by the flood waters in Kerala, Aug. 18, 2018. Photo courtesy of the St Vincent de Paul Society of England and Wales.

Record flash floods and landslides in the southwest state of Kerala in India have left hundreds dead and thousands more displaced after August rains late in the monsoon season broke three dams and overflowed river banks.

International aid agency Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has said they are working with the government and other local agencies to quickly provide emergency aid to people most in need.

"People here have lost everything, including their cars, their keepsakes and their clothes. Many have even had their homes washed away by landslides. Others are coming back to find their homes in complete ruin," said Jomey Joseph, CRS' head of office in Chennai (a city in neighboring Tamil Nadu), who is leading the agency's Kerala response.

"People say they've never witnessed so much rain in their lifetimes. Even those families who are better off have been devastated by this disaster," he added.

According to numbers reported by the BBC, the flooding has left nearly 400 people dead, and more than 1 million displaced, many of whom have found shelter in makeshift camps set up for flood victims throughout the state.

While monsoon season starts in June for Kerala, it wasn't until the severe rains in August that the deadly flooding and mudslides began. Now that the rains are letting up, more serious relief efforts are getting underway.

Catholic Relief Services has identified the Wayanad District, in the northeastern part of Kerala, as a particular area of need after the flooding. People in the Wayanad region survive mainly off of agriculture and foraging, but the flooding has obliterated most crops, cut off access to the forests, and left drinking water contaminated.

"This part of Kerala is a tribal area where people are already socio-economically marginalized. The living conditions are substandard and the flooding is making a bad situation much worse," Jomey said. "You have families who don't even have access to a dry change of clothes."

More than 2,000 families in the district are receiving help from CRS, including water purifying tablets for clean drinking water, buckets for safe water storage, hygiene items, such as soap and sanitary napkins, and shelter kits that include tarps and blankets.

Indian government authorities have estimated that the damage caused by the flooding and landslides will cost more than $1.1 billion.

Last week, India's bishops issued a statement expressing their support for the relief efforts and offering their prayers for all those affected by the floods.

"We pray for all those affected and also for all who are actively or through contributions helping the people in dire distress," they said.

While they noted several Catholic relief efforts already underway, they also expressed their "ardent desire to work with the Government and all like-minded agencies to provide relief and help in all possible ways to the suffering people."

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