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India: Protecting children after Leh floods

When Gareth Owen called me a “lucky devil” during my induction in October, I didn’t realise yet how unique my first deployment as a child protection trainee would be. Now, after my first month in Leh, a Buddhist town high up in the Indian Himalayas, I can indeed say that I am lucky to be living in the Ladakh region in Kashmir, known for its stunning panoramas of gigantic mountains with crisp white tops against a clear blue sky. And although the weather is freezing cold, the smiles of the Buddhist and Muslim Ladakhi are sure to warm you.

The peacefulness of Leh makes it easy to forget that on 6 August, just after midnight, a serious and extremely rare cloudburst caused extensive flash floods and landslides in the areas of Leh and Kargil. In Leh approximately 25,000 people have been affected by the floods. Over 190 people have died and hundreds have been missing. Thousands of houses have been washed away, property and infrastructure damaged and widespread loss of agricultural crops and livestock have been reported.

This week the Save the Children India emergency response has ended after an intensive four-month intervention to respond to the needs of flood survivors. I am attending a lessons learned meeting in Delhi to discuss the successes and challenges of the programme. Apart from immediate relief through the distribution of hygiene kits, household utilities, shelter, education kits and winter supplies for families, child protection has been a key part of the response.

Children faced high levels of psychosocial distress and fear of water and rain as a result from the floods. In some cases they lost family members and friends, and their daily life was disrupted for weeks. We established child-friendly spaces and community protection committees to meet the psychosocial needs of children and to help protect vulnerable children.

But protection work has a different character to the distribution of relief items. It requires a focus on sensitising people to the importance of changing negative behaviours that could put children at risk and it’s a time and resource intensive process in order to make structures sustainable, especially in emergency situations. It doesn’t stop when an emergency response ends. So I’m excited to fly back to Leh tomorrow to continue my protection work there for another couple of weeks.

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