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Flooding in Suriname

A Photo Report
May 2006

© International Red Cross

Floodwaters were slowly receding in flooded areas of Suriname two weeks after the start of torrential rains. But water levels continued to fluctuate, and one night of rainfall could cause a river to rise again. Surinamese villagers have excellent coping capacity because they have lived along, near and with the river for ages, giving them ample experience with flooding. Most villagers have relatives living in higher areas, where they have managed to find temporary shelter in relative's homes.

Suriname ranks fourth in the world in access to water, one of the most valuable of natural resources. But this hydrologic abundance is also what makes the country vulnerable to flooding. People living along the many rivers in Suriname's sparsely populated interior are accustomed to flooding. But the floods of May 2006 were the worst in memory. Especially for people living on the small islands in Suriname's Eastern Rivers, there was literally no place to go.

Fortunately, two weeks after the start of the flooding in the country's interior, the situation had improved, and relief assistance was fully operational. With the first and most urgent needs taken care of, attention turned to the longer-term impact of the disaster, including the health impact. As of mid-May, the health situation appeared stable. But the risk of increasing cases of malaria, diarrhea and other diseases remain well after the floodwaters have receded.

For the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), this means the work is just beginning. Most of the UNDAC assessment team, of which PAHO is a member, will wrap up its mission and leave Suriname, but PAHO will remain in-country for the long haul. Once its rapid assessment teams depart, PAHO experts will continue to assist the Ministry of Health, providing continuous support to limit as much as possible the negative health impact of the disaster. PAHO's Suriname office maintains a strong presence in the country, working with the Ministry of Health on a wide range of public health programs, including reducing the population's vulnerability to disasters.

© PAHO/Armando Waak

Suriname's national Medical Mission is responsible for all primary health care services in the country's interior. Its staff works through 52 clinics that serve approximately 37,000 people, in an area that spans some 130,000 square kilometers. Mission members are an excellent source of information for Operation 'Fala Watra' ("Receding Water"), the emergency relief effort in the flooded areas. Their daily radio contact with the clinics provided the National Coordination Centre, the Ministry of Health and PAHO critical data on cases of diarrhea and malaria as well as flood levels and other important developments.

Relief teams have been providing the clinics extra medical supplies and medicines to make sure that minor health risks can be addressed rapidly and efficient. The clinics themselves are run by community health workers, who receive extensive training from the Medical Mission.

© PAHO/Ton Vlugman

Not all of those displaced by the floods are quickly absorbed into another community. These refugees will sleep and live under this big house until they can access their houses and villages again. Most have received food packages. Suriname's strong network of NGOs makes the task of food distribution easier. In general, the close collaboration between government, nongovernmental and international organizations makes for a relatively smooth relief operation. Nevertheless, the need for food assistance will remain, as people have lost 70 percent of their crops and must wait until agricultural plots are able to produce again.

© PAHO/Ton Vlugman

A PAHO environmental health advisor conducted two assessments in the affected areas. His investigations included not only the technical aspects of water and sanitation, but also the social aspects. In the absence of public water supplies, rain water is the safest source of drinking water. While rain water is abundant this time of year, good collection systems are lacking. A supply of proper tanks could substantially and sustainably improve access to rainwater. PAHO is distributing chlorine tablets throughout the area, but improving access to clean drinking water remains a major challenge.

© French Red Cross/Olivier Dupont

A PAHO environmental health advisor inspects water supply systems. The lack of proper sanitation systems threatens the health of the population in this area. More than 70 percent of people in the affected area do not use sanitary means of excreta disposal, instead using rivers, the bush and/or fields.

The Pan American Health Organization was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization and works with its member countries to improve the health and quality of life of all the people of the Americas.



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