ACT members bring relief to flood-stricken Indian states

Geneva, October 20, 2003 -- At the end of August this year India's Orissa and Chattisgarh States reported some of the heaviest rainfall experienced in decades. The raging floodwater that swept away roads, bridges and life-supporting crops forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Members of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International responded to the emergency by providing assistance to people in several of Orissa's districts (Balangir and the five densely populated coastal districts Puri, Khurda, Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara), as well as Raipur and Jangir Champa in Chattisgarh State.
ACT member Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) responded in both states, whereas two other members, Lutheran World Service in India (LWS India) and United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India (UELCI) assisted people in Orissa.

Several villages near the Magani river mouth and along the coast of Orissa had suffered extensive damage when floodgates of a dam in the river system were opened to release the massive build-up of water upstream. Many people were caught completely unaware by the heavy rains - 316 mm (little over a foot) of rain poured down in six hours.

CASA reported that it was able to meet the needs of 8000 families due to the response by the ACT alliance to their appeal. This included distributing relief materials as well as food to families in five districts (Kendrapara, Khurda, Puri, Jagatsuinghphur and Cuttack) in Orissa State. 5000 families received dry food, whereas 2051 people were assisted with cooked meals for three days. 2000 people received plastic sheeting. Non-food items included purifying tablets for water, clothing and kitchen utensils.

The relief materials were distributed with the assistance of local partner organizations, which in turn were helped by local organizations, churches and trained members of the village disaster mitigation task forces. CASA said that the effectiveness of the relief efforts can be ascribed to the active participation of the disaster mitigation task forces and local villagers.

Also in Orissa State, LWS India reported that the rapid assistance given to nearly 60,000 people in 117 villages was possible because of the community based disaster preparedness and development projects that were in place. People who had fled their damaged or destroyed homes were in desperate need of food and clean drinking water. LWS India responded by making 50 tons of pressed rice, 2,5 tons of molasses, 500 000 purifying tablets for water and 2,900 plastic sheets available to people in Puri and Kendrapara districts - two of the worst affected areas. LWS India also reported that the tube wells with raised platforms that the agency had previously installed in the areas of Astaranga and Kakatpur blocks in Puri district of Orissa proved to be effective and are now providing clean drinking water to the villages. Plastic sheeting was one of the relief items desperately needed to provide secure shelter for people exposed to the elements.

Rice crops were washed away when embankments and ridges collapsed as the rains continued to fall. Subsistence farmers who lost their crops are facing a bleak year ahead. "How to survive?" in the coming months became a major concern for thousands of people in the districts affected by the floods, reported the ACT members.

But as effective as relief operations were, the ACT members reported that even transporting food to those in need brought its own set of challenges, as getting the food from the mainland to the distribution sites required boat trips that could take up to an hour each in many areas.