United Nations Volunteers

United Nations Volunteers
Rabi Ranjan Pandy was deputed to Saharsa district, Bihar during the 2008 floods

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is inspired by the conviction that volunteerism can transform the pace and nature of development. This is also true in a disaster situation.

Taking Challenges in their Stride

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is inspired by the conviction that volunteerism can transform the pace and nature of development. This is also true in a disaster situation.

Highlights

  • UNV volunteers were in the forefront of tackling the emergency caused by the breach of the Kosi River
  • Ensured monitoring of government and non-government camps and coordinating the activities of NGOs that worked for the floods
  • Carried out air-drops of relief material in marooned villages and deputed doctors to relief camps
  • Instrumental in providing steady flow of information from the flood affected areas to the outside world

The National UNV volunteers involved in the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) project in Bihar proved their mettle in the hour of need. The project has been implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Home Affairs in 12 States since 2002. Its primary aim was to prepare communities to cope with disasters and to be able to recover swiftly from them. The 2008 floods in Bihar that destroyed lives and livelihoods in the hundreds was a true test for the volunteers working in the DRM project. In August 2008 the river Kosi near the border on Nepal burst through its bank and the waters inundated vast parts of the five districts in the State of Bihar.

“We pushed our limits,” says Bipin Chaudhry, one of the UNV volunteers in Supaul district. The primary responsibility for him and the other volunteers was to prepare communities to cope with a disaster through first aid, search and rescue trainings, and preparation of plans for disaster risk management. The trainings were ongoing as the river Kosi spilled its waters across the land. Bipin Chaudhury never for once thought that he would be wading through knee-deep water before all plans were put in place. But the volunteers who were in the flood-affected districts (Saharsa, Supaul, Madhepura, Purnea and Araria) were able to use their long-term disaster management preparation to tide over the short-term emergency relief situation. UNV volunteers were in the forefront of tackling the emergency situation caused by the breach of the Kosi River.

Rabi Ranjan Pandey, UNV volunteerTheir experience, willpower and perseverance helped resolve several issues to be able to implement emergency relief measures to the flood victims. Additional volunteers were deputed to these districts in the immediate aftermath of the floods. Rabi Ranjan Pandey, UNV volunteer in Saharsa explains: “Our response time was, at the most, a day. Say there is no doctor at one of the relief camps; we would ensure that a doctor is deputed to that camp in 24 hours. From monitoring government and non-government camps, to coordinating the activities of the many NGOs that poured into Bihar, the UNV volunteers were also deputed to carry out air-drops of relief material in marooned villages.

For the district administrations and the State government the most important issue was getting information from the flood affected areas. This was crucial for the emergency response and long-term rehabilitation. The UNV volunteers were also instrumental in this. Their efforts have been recognized. Pratyaya Amrit, Additional Commissioner in-charge of relief at the Bihar Disaster Management Department in Patna praises their hard work: “Thanks to the team work and full commitment and cooperation of the volunteers here and in the field we always got information. The entire credit for the website on the floods goes to the UNV volunteers”.

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India is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, losing about two percent of the GDP on an average to disasters. This publication by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and supported by UNDP highlights policies and programmes undertaken by the Government of India to mitigate disaster risk, and areas of action to make the country disaster resilient in the future.

Monthly newsletter of the Disaster Management Unit, UNDP, New Delhi, India

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