Cyclone in Orissa: UNICEF Situation Report 01 Dec 1999

Originally published
SITREP prepared by UNICEF Bhubaneshwar
I - Current situation:

1) The casualties:

After the cyclone of 18 October and the super cyclone of 29 October hit the State of Orissa, 14 districts out of 30 were identified as particularly devastated.

Over 18,000 villages and nearly 15 million people are estimated to have been affected, including 3.3 million children.

The official death toll is touching 10,000 now but the estimated figure is 30,000 deaths. In one block alone (Ersama block), the volunteer coordinator informed us that they had cremated some 8,000 bodies. Because many persons are still unaccounted for, comprehensive assessments have yet to be completed. Moreover, communications have yet to be restored in some of the affected areas.

2) The most vulnerable children:

Many children may have lost one or both their parents and several might be separated from their families. Others may be affected by displacement due to the devastation caused by the cyclone. In one block (Ersama), some 200 orphans have already been identified. Several orphanages and special schools for disabled children were damaged. Because children do not go to school, because many of them have lost their families or because their families have lost all their income
sources, the risk of such children being exploited in labour or prostitution is very high.

Children who saw their parents and siblings swept away during the storm are shocked. Some do not speak, some do not react to any stimuli or attention. Many of the cyclone victims are found to be suffering from acute depression and post-traumatic stress disorders. According to the head of the Psychiatry Department of the local Medical College, ôthe culture and tradition in the coastal belt of the state are based on an emotional and spiritual ethos. For many the cyclone was a punishment for rise of sin in this worldö. Adolescents and old people form the majority of the psychiatric cases reported.

3) Villages without houses:

Dwellings in most of the affected villages were predominantly makeshift huts, which are almost completely destroyed. Most public structures were severely damaged. The cyclone is estimated to have damaged 3 million homes, of which 1.5 million were completely destroyed. In the seven worst affected districts, over 70% of the shelters have been washed away. It is estimated that 7.5 million people are homeless. Large sections of the population require shelter for periods ranging from three months to one year before they can return to houses that can withstand future ravages of such natural calamities. people do not even find thatching materials for their mud-houses.

4) Students without schools:

Some 11,000 schools are either significantly damaged or completely destroyed and those still standing are being used as temporary shelters. It is estimated that some 270,000 students between the age of 6 and 14 are out-of-school. School materials are required to replace those lost during the flooding. Schools and colleges in all affected areas have been closed. With several of the school buildings serving as temporary shelters and relief camps, the period for which children will not be able to resume their educational activity may be prolonged. Most student books and teaching aids were lost in the storm. About 3 million students are concerned.

5) Children without early childhood development centres:

In the 14 affected districts, early childhood care centers were running in some 7,000 villages. Since most of these centres were built in temporary hut-like structures, many were destroyed. It is estimated that at least 2,200 centres require tarpaulin sheets immediately and will have to be re-built to allow some early childhood care activities to resume.

6) People without water:

Due to large-scale inundation, there has been widespread contamination in drinking water sources. In the Cuttack district alone some 4.000 wells and bore well pumps were rendered unworkable.

7) Farmers and workers without a job:

The State of Orissa already had some of the poorest indicators in human development in India. The devastation brought by the cyclone will set these indicators back forty or fifty years. The economy has been shattered beyond imagination. Not only were crops destroyed, but plantations were also seriously damaged. For instance, only 20% of the coconut trees (an important source of income in Orissa) have survived. It will take seven years to grow new trees. The tidal wave imbibed the soil with salty water. Due to the salination, some crops might disappear from Orissa.

Most artisans have lost their workshops and tools. Small rural production units have been destroyed and the machinery badly damaged. Urban small-scale units have also been severely affected. ôIn a nutshell, the damage can be said to
be near total loss of normal livelihood for the next six monthsö reported the Orissa Disaster Mitigation Mission in November 1999.

8) The health risk:

Some 90,000 cases of diarrhoeal diseases have been reported. An outbreak of measles is also of concern. Cases of ARI infections, especially bronco-pneumonia, and cholera are reported from the field. However, the epidemics seem under control.

II - Government action:

The Chief Minister of Orissa identified five phases, the five ôRö strategy: Rescue, Relief, Restoration, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction. He also added another ôRö: Resources.

With the assistance of other Indian States, the Government has taken significant strides to restore electricity and telephone communications, clear roads, provide medical assistance and distribute relief commodities. Public personnel are performing around-the-clock work to restore public utilities and roads.

However, the magnitude of the cyclone and extent of the damage have overwhelmed its ability to respond.

The State Health Department has disinfected 979,047 wells in the affected districts.

Seeds are being provided to farmers who must start sowing if they want a harvest in May. The Government has already supplied 6,393 quintals of different seeds for distribution to farmers at subsidized rates.

There are still villages that cannot be reached by road. The Government of Orissa estimates that it is only reaching 40% of the affected areas. Electricity and telecommunications are largely non-functional in the principal damaged areas.

The State Government is now shifting from the relief to rehabilitation and reconstruction mode: emergency delivery operations for food and relief have been stopped officially, although targeted feeding continues for vulnerable groups.

Each Department has been requested to conduct an assessment of damage in terms of infrastructure, water, agriculture, homes, etc.

The Government of Orissa is giving priority to orphaned and destitute children, destitute women and other vulnerable groups like disabled, elderly etc. û These groups will be identified, their needs assessed and assistance will be provided.

The government is also very concerned by the high increase in child labour.

III - UNICEF action

1) A critical coordinating role:

The UNICEF State Office continues to functions as the ôUN Houseö to facilitate and co-ordinate the UN efforts in the months after the cyclone.

Co-ordination meetings with participation from high-level government representatives, NGOs and donors continue regularly. An essential activity has been to map respective areas of intervention to identify gaps and prevent duplication of efforts.
Meetings also provide an opportunity to exchange information and data on the field situation and to plan and coordinate immediate, medium and long term intervention.

As a result of the continuing consultations with the Government of Orissa, UN agencies, donors and NGOs, a concerted planning for rehabilitation is being developed in three areas: infrastructure, livelihood and habitat. The process for the development and establishment of coordination mechanisms devolving down to block and panchayat levels has been initiated.

2) Recent highlights of UNICEF assistance:

UNICEF provided surgical masks, gloves and boots to volunteers to clear the human corpses and animal carcasses. In the Ersama block alone (the worst affected), some 8,000 bodies were cremated and 200,000 carcasses were burnt.

UNICEF facilitated work over 500 latrines for people living in camps. In the Cuttack districts, out of 4,000 damaged wells, some 3,600 were repaired within ten days. In the 13 affected districts, over 68,000 tube wells were repaired, disinfected and restored in less than two weeks. UNICEF assisted the Government of Orissa for disinfecting wells and testing water sources for bacteriological contamination and salinity.

UNICEF has been supporting the Government in restoring the cold chain (over 600 cold chain equipment pieces - such as refrigerators and freezers - were repaired) and is supporting a measles campaign in three districts, covering over 600,000 children under 5. The intensive Vitamin A campaign conducted before the cyclone is seen as having contributed to children=C6s stronger resistance to diseases. Another focus of UNICEF health intervention is the strengthening of the
Government=C6s epidemiological surveillance systems.

In the area of child protection, efforts to identify and locate children in distress have been initiated through the mobilisation of volunteers and door-to-door surveys. UNICEF has been advocating with the Government for the establishment of transit mechanisms addressing high-risk children. It includes the development of strategies and programmes for the prevention of child labour,trauma counselling and assistance to orphans.