Making Communities Resilient in Flood-Prone Bihar

Making Communities Resilient in Flood-Prone Bihar

Updated on 17 Sep, 2019

Floods in the state of Bihar have affected more than 80 lakh people and killed 130 individuals. Above normal rainfall led to floods in 13 districts and displaced 1,16,653 people. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), North Bihar received record-high rainfall between July 12 and 13.

Rising water levels have forced people to flee their homes and seek shelter elsewhere. The worst affected districts are Sitamarhi, Sheohar, Madhubani, Araria, East Champaran, Kishanganj, Supaul, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Saharsha, Katihar and Purnia. 

Floods in Bihar are a recurring phenomenon because of its geography. Bihar shares its northern border with Nepal from where several rivers flow into the state. Heavy rainfall in Nepal led to sudden rise in water levels in the Kosi, Bagmati, Kamala Balan, Gandak, Burhi Gandak and their tributaries.

The flood brought life to a standstill. Shops and hospitals were shut making access to essential commodities difficult. Schools were either submerged or were used as shelter for the flood victims. The state government evacuated 1.25 lakh people and set up almost 200 relief camps for 1,16,653 flood-affected people; over 1000 community kitchens have been set up to feed those living in the shelters.

Oxfam India has completed a needs-assessment that will help identify the long-term needs of the affected families. Oxfam India plans to work with local partners in Bihar ¬— Adithi, IDF (Integrated Development Foundation), and Nav Jagriti — to support 30 villages in Sitamarhi district to help them recover from floods.

Once the floods water starts to recede, flood victims will be faced with lack of safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene issues, and the threat of water-borne diseases. In an emergency situation, women and girls are the most vulnerable; with no access to safe toilets or privacy, not only is their safety at risk, they are also susceptible to diseases.

On the to-do list for Oxfam India are all those things that will help restore normalcy — repair handpumps, conduct WASH trainings, build bathing cubicles to provide privacy to women and girls, and provide sanitary napkins. 

Farmers and daily wage labourers are the worst hit; floods have washed away standing crops and left the agricultural field uncultivable. On the drawing board is cash for work programme that will ensure that villagers can earn money by cleaning up the village. Not only will this help the villagers to earn money to get back on their feet, it will also help clean villages and reduce the risk of water-borne diseases. Oxfam India aims to reach out to 50,000 people in Bihar and provide them long-term support to rebuild their lives.

Till now, Oxfam India has chlorinated 945 hand pumps in Sitamarhi district of Bihar, benefitting 22,650 people, and around 11,000 people have been sensitized on child trafficking, which has a tendency to increase after a disaster. 

How Oxfam India’s Disaster Risk Reduction project saves lives

Oxfam India has been working on Disaster Risk Reduction with its partners in Bihar since 2012. It supports communities build resilience to natural disasters. Under the DRR programme, Oxfam India has been working in 45 villages in four blocks of Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, and Samastipur. Because of its DRR work, no causalities were reported in fifteen villages of Bajpatti block in Sitamarhi district.

Bihar is one of the most disaster-prone states in India. It is estimated that the flood-affected area of Bihar increased from 25 lakh hectares in 1954 to 73 lakh hectares in 2016.  This meant an increasing vulnerable population and this was one of the reasons that Oxfam India worked in Bihar; And not just to step in to respond but also stay back for recovery and rehabilitation. While floods are inevitable, Oxfam’s intervention in Bihar has shown that by working on building the resilience of these vulnerable communities actually goes a long way in reducing the risk that disaster brings with it. 


Oxfam India formed Village Disaster Management Committees (VDMCs) so people are better equipped to cope with disasters. Evacuation mock drills were conducted at the village level; adolescents were trained to give first aid and women were trained to tend to broken bones and snakebites. Villagers were trained to keep flood response kits handy; these kits contain dry ration, important papers and contact numbers, and first-aid kit. These kits ensure that families evacuate immediately with all the essential items. These villages have also been trained to adopt resilient livelihood techniques such as vermicomposting, kitchen gardening, and mushroom cultivation.
In the past whenever Oxfam India has responded to floods, it has built raised hand pump models. These ensure that in the next floods, the villagers will continue to have access to safe drinking water; it is particularly important since hand pumps would get submerged and contaminated. The raised hand pumps were designed to withstand flood. On similar lines, raised toilets were constructed and communities trained on personal and community hygiene.
In 2015, Bihar became the first state in India to develop a 15-year Road map on Disaster Risk Reduction (2015 – 2030). This was aligned with the globally agreed Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction that lays down guidelines to build resilience of communities living in disaster prone areas. Oxfam India worked closely with the state Disaster Management Department, to develop this road map. 


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