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Bihar, a state in Eastern India, with rivers flowing in from the majestic Himalayas, is one of the world's most flood-prone areas. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic pushing cases in Bihar on an upward trajectory, the ferocity of monsoon season floods is adding to an already complex socio-economic challenge, affecting people and infrastructure alike.

Life has come to a standstill in many parts of the state.

A flood of problems

Access to services and essential items has been disrupted with women, girls and children affected more severely.

Houses submerged in floodwaters

Widespread devastation of crops and livestock

A rapid needs assessment with a focus on women, adolescent girls and young women by UNFPA’s implementing partner Plan India showed alarming and gender-skewed findings -  displaced families living together in temporary, cramped shelters resulting in a complete lack of privacy for girls; pregnant women not able to receive regular ante-natal care services; lavatories submerged under flood waters; access to sanitary napkins acutely affected.

Temporary relief shelters

To add to their woes, loss of livelihood and earnings have made it almost impossible for women and adolescent girls to procure necessary items for maintaining personal and menstrual hygiene.

”During the crisis situation, we were not able to purchase basic essential commodities due to non-accessibility to shops as our area was flooded. We also did not have surplus money to invest in personal hygiene and menstrual health”, a woman from Runi village in Sitamarhi, a flood-affected district of Bihar, recalls.

“We were not expecting any quick support or help. My family was not in a position to invest in necessities like sanitary pads,” says Puja Kumari, an adolescent girl from Runi.

UNFPA, through its implementing partner Plan India, came forward to provide gender-sensitive flood response in the two most affected districts of the state - Sitamarhi and Muzaffarpur. Together with Plan India, UNFPA strove to meet the sexual and reproductive health and other essential needs of adolescents and young women, including pregnant and lactating women. 

When the State Government announced easing of restrictions associated with the COVID-19 lockdown, the people of Bihar were hopeful of moving towards a ‘New Normal’, but the ruinous deluge shattered their hopes. The fury of the floods forced many to abandon their homes and villages to live in temporary relief shelters.

A kit of hope

At this time when so many felt hopeless, UNFPA’s trademark Dignity Kits proved providential for pregnant women, adolescent girls and lactating mothers belonging to the poor and extremely vulnerable communities. These kits contain simple yet crucial supplies, including sanitary pads, underclothes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and soap.

UNFPA and Plan India aimed to distribute almost 7,000 Dignity Kits. As of September 11, 5,633 kits have been distributed to affected families with support provided to 2,902 adolescent girls, 814 pregnant women and 1,917 lactating mothers, following all safety protocols.

The gratitude expressed by these women has been immense.

Essential items during these tough times 

Distribution of dignity kits

“The support came at an opportune time for the extremely poor families of the village as they could not purchase these items during the COVID-19 crisis. The items in the kit are very useful to adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers”, states Punita Devi, an Anganwadi (village courtyard centre) worker in Sitamarhi district.

“The people in the community were in a state of fear due to COVID-19 and during the same time, the floodwaters entered the village suddenly. We all left our houses and shifted to the village embankment with our limited belongings. Everyone was managing their hardships and struggle but were unable to manage their daily needs. UNFPA – Plan India supported Dignity Kits have been useful in addressing the sanitation, hygiene and daily need requirements of women and girls”, says Sri Ramsagar Sahni, Ward Member, Muzaffarpur district.

“Farmers and daily wage labourers were the worst affected as floods had washed away standing crops and COVID-19 had disrupted livelihoods. Poor people were deprived of well-being and health services and faced food insecurity. With limited resources, they were unable to invest in basic requirements such as food, clothes and daily use hygiene commodities. The support from UNFPA was a great help for the most marginalised during this time of distress. These items will definitely help them cope”, says Radha Devi, Gaighat Village Head, District Muzaffarpur.

While flood waters have begun receding from the intervention areas and the situation is slowly on the mend with people moving back to their homes, the impact of the immense loss of property and livelihoods cannot be ignored. The ever-present threat of another flood fills people with dread as they struggle to recover from the double calamity of a natural disaster and a global pandemic.

The disaster relief support by way of the UNFPA Dignity Kits has been timely during these challenging times when people are trying to restart their lives, saving many adolescents from falling prey to serious health hazards because of lack of menstrual hygiene. Access to sanitary pads, antiseptic liquid, detergent and toilet soap, items they could not afford, has certainly improved their hygiene and quality of life.

Disaster relief support

Leaving no one behind

In India and the world over, UNFPA provides a range of humanitarian response, including Dignity Kits, psychosocial support for survivors of gender-based violence and safe pregnancy and childbirth services. Taking care of basic needs of women and girls in the most desperate and trying times demonstrates commitment towards women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health - a mission that feeds into the Sustainable Development Goals’ pledge of ‘Leaving No One Behind’.


UNFPA, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, works in over 150 countries including India.

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