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Floods in Suriname
May 2006


(click on the image to enlarge it)

With the start of the rainy season the situation in Suriname is once again critical. PAHO/WHO has donated rain water tanks, which have helped in the collection of safe water and people have been trained in their use. Water purification tablets have also been distributed to the population. PAHO/WHO remains in close coordination with local authorities.


Situation Report
June, 2006

Rain Water Harvesting

With the rainy season, waters are rising again in the East of Suriname. In some areas the situation is critical again. In the Ampomatapu area people have sought a safe haven in French Guyana. Also parts of West Suriname, such as the road to Blanche Marie have flooded. The National Coordination Centre intends to continue food distribution. However, considering the amounts of money associated with air transport, NCCR is looking for alternative means of transportation by water and road.

Meanwhile, PAHO is going through the same process for the transportation of rain water tanks. These tanks were bought by PAHO as response to the need for safe drinking area in the affected areas. In addition to the environmental consequences, it is not possible to supply the whole area with bottled water. Rain water tanks can – especially in the rainy season when there is enough rainfall – be a relatively safe way of water catchments. To be able to ensure safe water all year long, the project was complemented with the purchase of water purification tablets. This way, even when there is a shortage of rain water, villagers will be able to have water safe for drinking.

PAHO ordered the tanks after an assessment in the interior. PAHO environmental health engineers looked at the most appropriate size of tanks, what kind of material and how should they be installed. Based on this assessment, they initially locally ordered 43 bottle shaped tanks of a high quality. But as these tanks are not suitable for stacking up, transport is expensive. The first 43 tanks were transported by air to the five hubs that were established by the National Coordination Centre for Disaster Response. This facilitated a fast response to immediate needs, but is a relative expensive form of transportation as each airplane or helicopter could only transport three or four tanks.

In the second phase of the project, 110 fully closed model tanks were ordered from local stores. For the transportation of these tanks, more efficient solutions were found. The tanks have been transported with trucks to Albina (on the east end of Suriname), from where they will be taken to the many small villages on the side of the river that runs from Albina to Cottica on the Lawa, all the way south in the interior. And for once, the extremely high water level has a benefit. Only in these circumstances the big pontoon that is stationed in Albina can move on the river all the way to the interior. The pontoon is big enough to accommodate 96 tanks. With the aid of at least six small boats – the ‘korjalen’ that are commonly used for transport to the interior – the pontoon with the tanks will be pushed upstream. These small boats will also be filled with the fuel needed to push the pontoon all the way to Apotamoe. In each village along the Marowijne, the pontoon will hold still to unload a number of rain water tanks for the village. For each 30 villagers, one tank is supplied.

To facilitate a good installation and adoption of the tanks by the village, PAHO sought cooperation with the network of NGOs working in the interior (het binnenland overleg) and the bestuursopzichters (government inspectors in the area). Both the NGOs and the government inspectors have received training from PAHO in installing the tanks and general water, sanitation and hygiene. With their knowledge and skills they will train the villagers that will use the tanks. 2 or 3 days before the pontoon with the rain water tanks will moor in the village, the NGOs will be present to give training and prepare the installation of the tanks. This will facilitate a quick and proper use of rainwater in the flood affected area. NATIN, the technical college in Suriname, has supported this process with the development of standard drawings for the base on which the water tanks need to be placed.

PAHO has been able to implement this project with funds that were supplied by OFDA.


Situation Report
19 May

Rains continue to fall in Suriname causing the Marowijne River, which is on the Eastern border with French Guiana, to rise to over 4.5 meters. Food distribution to the affected areas are being coordinated by the National Coordination Centre for Disasters (NCCR) using Dutch and Brazillian helicopters. The NCCR is also following up on reports of neglected villages and mal-distribution of supplies.

An assessment of the village at Grand Santi on the Marowijne River in French Guyana reported 500 displaced persons from Suriname have arrived and have joined a similar number of local maroons at the shelters there. The shelter conditions are poor, with no food, water and communication. The health centre at Stoelman Island on the Suriname side is receiving people form the local area and from the French side. A team from PAHO is to visit Stoelman Island and Grand Santi today.

In the south of Suriname, in the village of Tepou, there are reports of diarrhea and upper respiratory cases among young children. A team from PAHO / French Red Cross is to investigate today.

PAHO has purchased 25 water tanks and water purification tablets initially, more tanks, as well as vaccines and cold chain supplies will be procured for the Ministry of Health. PAHO has also mobilized technical advisors to assist other national and international agencies in the relief work. These experts participated in the UNDAC assessment team which is wrapping up its mission to Suriname. They will continue to assist the Ministry of Health in a wide range of public health programs, including reducing the country’s vulnerability to disasters over the coming weeks.

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Update on PAHO Operations
18 May

The management of logistics and the transport of goods to the interior of Suriname is difficult, but the Suriname military has taken over much of the logistics and distribution, aided by Brazilian and Dutch helicopters. Food parcels are being distributed by the IFRC/Netherlands Red Cross.

Epidemiological surveillance reports are being received by radio from a few sites and they are reporting primarily cases of diarrhea and upper respiratory infections in children under five years of age. The numbers are not different from last year’s figures.

Suriname’s National Coordination Centre for Disasters (NCCR) is carrying out its responsibilities in a very transparent and beneficial manner. Evening coordination meetings are attended by approximately 70 people, but attendance is decreasing.

PAHO plans and activities

1. Disease control and malaria

The Ministry of Health and the Medical Mission are working to reach a consensus on health needs. In the meantime:

  • Coartem (treatment for P. falciparum) and K-OTABS (will be purchased to impregnate bed nets as protection against vectors).
  • A plan has been made with the Ministry of Health to strengthen the capacity of the epidemiology department by providing software, PCs, training and field visits.
  • 15,000 long-lasting impregnated nets for hammocks—provided by the Global Fund—are being distributed. PAHO will order other specially designed ones to meet the needs of the Maroon population in Suriname.

2. Water and sanitation

  • PAHO/WHO is procuring plastic water tanks to collect rainwater. These will be placed close to schools and clinics for communal use.
  • Aquatabs (water purification) have arrived and will be provided primarily to Amerindian villages, since they do not have individual water tanks. They can use the chlorine tablets to purify creek water.
  • The collection of empty plastic bottles and boxes from donated food parcels are being collected and disposed of by the local military.
  • Regarding disposal of excreta, at this moment, no attempt is being made to change anything, because this is an enormous logistical problem and an issue of education.

3. Coordination and logistics

PAHO/WHO continues to support Suriname’s NCCR and its Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Access to high-speed Internet and other information and communications technology continues to pose a problem and delay some processes.

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Health Situation Report
16 May

Diarrhea

The first cases of diarrhea (some in combination with vomiting) have been confirmed, but according to the Health Crisis Team which is carefully monitoring the situation, there is no outbreak at this moment. Each case of diarrhea is reported to a special surveillance unit within the Health Crisis Team. This team analyzes and compares the data with data from other years and other areas so that informed judgments can be made.

Malaria

A small malaria outbreak has been detected in Asigron, near the Brokopondo Lake. Suriname’s Director of Health, Dr. Marthelise Eersel, stresses that this outbreak is not directly related to the flooding. However, the risk of an outbreak is real and prevention and early treatment measures are urgently needed. PAHO/WHO has prepared and submitted a proposal for malaria control.

Water and Sanitation

The affected areas in Suriname are primarily populated by indigenous groups that are accustomed to drinking rainwater. (In very dry seasons, some villagers are forced to drink from the creeks or rivers, which usually increases the number of diarrhea cases.) Some villagers have complained about the smell and dirt in the river, which is most probably caused by sediment, rotten food and garbage that was swept into the river by the floods. In these circumstances, the best access to safe drinking water is to collect rainwater. Distributing bottled water to the interior is impractical, considering the costs and space needed to transport it to these remote areas and the additional waste of plastic empty bottles that stay in the environment.

The best alternative is to purify water on the spot. This is not only a matter of technical concern. The cultures and habits of the population are just as important. For example: will people actually drink water that is purified with chlorine?

Ton Vlugman, PAHO water and sanitation engineer, has done a preliminary assessment in the two affected areas. Fortunately, he found that most villages are not short of rainwater at this moment. Sanitation however, remains a problem. There is a clear need for good sanitation systems in the area.

Response activities

National Disaster Coordination Centre

The National Coordination Centre has established five hubs from where they continue to distribute food and hygiene packages (the latter donated by the Red Cross Society). Purified water is also distributed, but not in large quantities.

All volunteers, military staff and police going into the field are first vaccinated for Hepatitis B and Yellow Fever. They also receive an impregnated bed net and malaria prophylaxis. First aid responders being sent to the field are also supplied with the necessary kits. Police and military have been assisting in transporting sick people to the clinics run by the Medical Mission, which are present in all areas.

Ministry of Health

The Surinamese Ministry of Health is working in the interior through the Medical Mission, an old and successful system of small health clinics and local health workers serving the approximately 37,000 people living in the interior. These 52 clinics have already proven to be very successful in disease monitoring and in providing updates on the general situation in the interior, as there is daily radio contact from the Medical Mission Headquarters with all the clinics.

All people in the interior commonly visit the health clinics of the Medical Mission, even if they have to travel for hours on the river to get there. Recently, travel to the clinics has become more complicated with roads being flooded, limited availability of fuel and less boats available on the river. Medical Mission has requested the National Coordination Centre to assist in the transport of sick people to the clinics. Currently, all 52 clinics of the Medical Mission are operational again. Four of them were flooded, but three of them managed to continue operations on higher grounds.

The Ministry of Health formed a special crisis team to address occurring and expected health concerns. This group meets daily to discuss emerging issues regarding disease surveillance, medical supplies, water quality issues and health communication.

A quick assessment of medical supplies on stock has just been finalized and the Ministry of Health is preparing a request for medical supplies that are needed to cope with emerging health threats related to the flooding .

Pan American Health Organization

PAHO/WHO has actively supported the national response to the flooding with the deployment of technical experts. The PAHO/WHO office in Suriname has provided telecommunications and administrative support to the Emergency Operations Centre. Now that systems are in place, PAHO/WHO is focusing more on its core task of supporting the Ministry of Health in safeguarding the health of the affected people by preparing concrete plans for improving water and sanitation and for prevention for and response to malaria and other communicable diseases.

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Situation Report
15 May

Situation

Water levels in the upper Suriname area have started to recede. Water levels in some villages in the East are still rising. The situation of the displaced in these areas is serious as – unlike most displaced in the upper Suriname area – it is more difficult to flee to higher grounds in these areas. Many villages are built on small islands in the river, which are now completely flooded. A member of the NGO network in the interior reported to have registered 925 displaced families in this area, some of them sleeping in the open air.

The transportion situation seems to have improved somewhat. The main road to the south (to Atjoni) is currently being repaired. Also, all official airports in the interior are accessesible again.

More rain is expected for the days to come, but for the most affected areas no more then 30 mm of rainfall is expected.

As the number of displaced people in the eastern area is increasing, there is a need for blankets and tents.

Relief assistance

Food packages have been delivered. Most villages in the affected areas have received a food package. The good structure of NGOs in the interior has paid off in this respect. But the need for food will remain. People have lost their crops and there will be a sustained need for food until agricultural plots are producing again.

Tomorrow 400 hygiene packages from Red Cross will arrive in Suriname. They will be distributed together with the food packages.

Health situation

A daily medical surveillance system is currently in place. There is also a quick response team established that should be able to do quick epidemic investigation in the case of outbreaks. Suriname has a good system of health clinics in the interior. In the current situation, the biggest constraint is to get people to the clinics as transportation has been disrupted by the flooding. The national coordination team has requested police and military boats to assist.

Again, there are cases of diarrhea (some in combination with vomiting) reported. But there are no suspected outbreaks at this moment. There is also an increase in the number of respiratory infections reported. There is a need for quick assessments of all flooded villages.

Water and Sanitation

PAHO is involved in placing water cleaning installations in the affected areas. Clean drinking water remains an urgent need. Requests for chlorine tablets and water tanks have gone out.

Education

Many teachers have left the affected areas for Paramaribo. If the situation continues to improve in the upper Suriname area, the Ministry of Education will try to bring them back to their villages as soon as possible. At the same time teachers from the Eastern area are still coming to Paramaribo. All in all, education is seriously disrupted. Efforts are being made to continue schooling in the schools that also serve as temporary shelters, but needless to say, circumstances are far from ideal. The Ministry of Health is also looking into options for education in the areas where displaced persons have gone.

International assistance

UNDAC is conducting two assessment studies of the situation. Reports are expected tomorrow. Today an international expert in disaster relief from PAHO was added to the technical support group. More international technical support is expected to arrive the coming days.

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Situation Report
12 May

Situation

It has been reported that the water level in the Tapanahony River and Lawa River rises. In some villages an increase of 1 to 1.75 meters has been measured. It was reported that the water level in the Boven Suriname River has declined somewhat, but expected rainfall in the upper catchments area might cause the water level to rise in the next two days. Flooding has expanded to approximately 8000 km2 in the Boven Suriname area, and 15 to 16,000 km2 in the Tapanahony/Lawa Rivers.

Population affected

The number of people estimated to be displaced remains at 20.000 to 25.000.

Needs

At this moment mainly safe drinking water, food and durotanks (to collect rain water for drinking)

Constraints

Main constraint at this moment is transportation. One third (6 of 18) of the airstrips in the interior are closed, some roads are flooded, and there is a need for Helicopters and boats. Many villages are only accessible by water, some by plane or helicopter

Health situation

At this moment, the Medical Mission (responsible for health services in the interior) reported no specific health problems. But they are very vigilant to respond to the expected increased outbreaks of diarrhea and possibly malaria. They consider the risk of leptospirosis to be very small.

Expectations

Sustained rainfall for the coming days remains a source of concern. In both catchments areas the water level is expected to rise.

Relief assistance

National and international response is taking off. International agencies have offered their technical support and many donations have been offered and promised, among them

  • The Dutch Government has pledged 1 milion Euro for assistance and technical assistance.
  • UNDP has provided US$ 80,000 to the UN country team for immediate needs.
  • OCHA has offered a US$ 30,000 preliminary cash grant.
  • NGOs in the Netherlands and other European countries have offered significant amounts of financial assistance (10 to 50.000 Euro).
  • Surinamese citizens have generously provided money, food items and other gifts.
  • Surinamese private sector initiatives have donated generously for relief support.
  • Dutch military forces are ready to assist

National Coordination

  • The National Coordination Centre has established 10 base camps in the affected areas. From these camps they will serve the surrounding villages with food, medical services and other assistance.
  • The president has visited the National Coordination Centre today.
  • UNDAC Team has arrived this morning to assess damage and needs.
  • First transports with emergency aid packages (approx. 750) have arrived in the interior.

PAHO/WHO Response

  • A water and sanitarion enginer has arrived to support national efforts.
  • A Suma team is on stand by.
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Situation Report
10 May

Nature of the disaster

Flooding, due to continued torrential rainfall over the period starting around 1 May 2006.

Areas affected

The area affected is the whole Southern part of Suriname, more in particular the districts of Sipaliwini and Brokondo.

People affected

  • Confirmed deaths: inventory pending
  • Injured: inventory pending
  • Displaced/ homeless: 22,141 (estimate)

Damage

  • Mostly damage to houses and buildings (stone and wood) and roads.
  • River ports and airstrips partly inaccessible.
  • Telecommunication partly disabled.
  • Electricity damaged in all affected areas.

General threats

  • Meteorological reports predict further heavy rainfall within the next few days.
  • Population movements expected.

Health situation

  • Expectation of diarrhoea epidemic.
  • There may be a sudden increase in mercury levels due to release of mercury from small-scale gold mining areas.
  • Some of the medical centres are flooded, but most are still operational.

Current response

  • Evacuation decided for two badly affected areas.
  • Assessment of relief needs is currently being undertaken.
  • Affected areas have been publicly announced disaster areas by the President of Suriname on May 8, 2006.

International response

  • A United Nations Disaster Management Team has been set up.
  • A request for support has been sent to BCPR and OCHA, pending the receipt of the situation analysis and needs analysis.
  • Other international organizations and embassies are also awaiting formal request letters.
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Photo Report
PAHO/WHO publications for dealing with floods
Health Situation in Suriname