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India floods: the helplessness of children

A young girl whose home was badly damaged by the floods

What struck me most was the helplessness of children. In the midst of disasters such as the floods in Uttarakhand, India, this June, the surviving adults scavenged chaotically for food, water, medicines, clothes and other essential items, but I found the confusion and fear in the children’s eyes striking and unforgettable.

There was a father I met who had trekked over 20km from the higher mountain reaches across slippery paths and through live landslides. His village was beyond the reach of relief workers: the road infrastructure had been totally destroyed by landslides and river banks had been swept away.

Children separated from their parents

He was taking his three children to relatives who still had a home. His wife and an infant child had remained in the village, and once he had left these children in safety, he would return to rebuild the life that nature had taken away. The kids scream at night, the father said. To me, it was their numbed silence that was chilling.

Sadly, the road network has yet to become usable again, even a month after the floods, and countless children and their families are undoubtedly still stuck in the 400-odd villages that remain completely cut off. I met two boys, around the age of my own son, who had been orphaned and would now have to spend their lives with an uncle who was surviving on a measly salary. Their faces were covered in insect bites. The uncle promised to get them checked up when they found a health camp.

Most grown-ups have many ways to deal with crises. The fact that these children, who ought to be in schools and playgrounds, must now grapple with the daunting task of basic survival in a harsh landscape, with little hope or help, is jarring and upsetting. In the 21st century, where technology can accomplish so many miracles, why can we not yet protect children from pain, misery and fear?

This post was written by Devendra Tak, Media Manager with Save the Children India

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