Emergency information from Christian Aid - India cyclone update

The official death toll following the 'super cyclone' that hit the eastern Indian State of Orissa, stands at 10,000. However, Christian Aid's partners in the region maintain that the number of fatalities is more than 25,000. It is likely that the State of Orissa will never know exactly how many people lost their lives. Whilst nothing can prevent a cyclone and the devastation it causes in its wake, the lesson to be learned in this instance is the importance of having in place the necessary disaster preparedness mechanisms and early warning systems.
Christian Aid partner organisations in India are working together to provide immediate relief as well as assessing the long-term needs of affected communities to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

Mary Todd, Christian Aid's programme funding officer for Orissa says: 'Eighty per cent of coconut trees were devastated by the cyclone, depriving the state of a major source of income. The tree cover loss is immense, increasing the temperatures in what is already India's hottest state.'

Impact of the cyclone

Physical damage

The cyclone struck on 29 October with wind speeds of up to 170 miles per hour. A tidal wave, 35ft high, inundated an area stretching 40 miles along the coast of Orissa and nearly 20 miles inland. The scale of the devastation is only now beginning to emerge. The port of Paradip on the coast was the worst hit with the entire area being submerged. One third of the state's 35 million people in ten districts are said to have been affected. The entire rice crop, due to have been harvested in November, has been destroyed. The next harvest period, due in April 2000, will also be adversely affected by the high levels of salt water in the paddy fields.

'It will take up to a year to restore the electricity and water supply' says Karen Oon-Buffin, Christian Aid's programme officer for Orissa.

Fight to survive

With a shortage of basic essentials, prices of commodities have begun to rise. Last month a kilo of rice cost ten rupees (Rs.), now it costs Rs. 30. The loss of livestock has also caused a milk shortage.

Nityanda Rout, a mathematics and science teacher in the Ganjam district, who lost seven members of his family in the cyclone, is back at work and says: 'The cyclone has been a great trauma for the children. They need to carry on with their studies, they depend on us.'

Health hazards

The lack of proper drainage has meant that stagnant water has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying malaria. The spread of epidemics remains a major concern, with deaths from cholera and diarrhoea on the increase. Sanitary conditions have worsened due to damage to the sewerage system. Children and the elderly are vulnerable to illnesses like gastroenteritis and dehydration as a result of acute diarrhoea.

Partner response

Christian Aid has so far made a number of grants totalling £890,000 towards its partner organisations working in Orissa. An audit of the affected villages has been undertaken to assess the total extent of the damage to help partners to plan their rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. Over the next six months, this will focus on restoring livelihoods through ensuring food security, rebuilding houses, distributing salt-resistant fast-growing vegetable seeds, and disaster preparedness. Christian Aid partner organisations will also use 'cash or food for work' schemes which will focus on rebuilding housing as well as local community infrastructure such as schools, roads and bridges.

Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), working on behalf of 24 Protestant and orthodox churches in India, is planning a large-scale rehabilitation programme which will include disaster preparedness. CASA has already begun a 'food for work' scheme in 60 villages and will build two-storied cyclone shelters in the Kendraparha and Jagatsinghpur areas in response to the urgent need for disaster preparedness. These can be used by the local community for various other activities throughout the year. Local communities will be made aware of procedures in case of another emergency. Fast-growing vegetable seeds will be distributed and houses rebuilt.

Gram Vikas, is the largest NGO in Orissa, and based in Ganjam district. It will be providing assistance to 10,000 families in the delta area of Jagatsinghapur. This includes helping farmers to grow cereal crops, vegetables and coarse grains over the next six months. 'Food for work' schemes will enable the rebuilding of roads, and timber, bamboo and thatch will be colllected to repair houses.

Gram Vikas will also provide rehabilitation assistance to 3,500 families in 150 tribal villages in the districts of Ganjam and Gajapati. The main activities in these areas are supporting marginal farmers, repairing houses, livestock shelters and badly damaged roads. Ponds are also being renovated for fish farming. In terms of disaster preparedness, cyclone shelters are being built and community forests replanted to prevent landslips and provide cover from the wind. Coconut, mango and papaya trees are being planted to replace those destroyed and provide a source of income and food.

The Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) will be providing assistance to families in the three districts of Jagatsinghapur, Kendraparha and Puri through 25 village councils (Gram Panchayats) over the next six months. Activities will focus on rebuilding people's lives, disaster preparedness, health and education. Tractors will be hired to help farmers to plant coarse grains. A cyclone shelter will be built using local materials and the community has been made aware of procedures in case of another cyclone. Tube wells are being installed to provide an accessible and protected water supply. Damaged classrooms in schools are being repaired and teaching materials are being provided.

AWARENESS works with low caste and tribal communities (Adivasi) _ largely subsistence farmers, agricultural labourers and rural artisans. Christian Aid has supported this organisation since 1994. Their emergency response has been directed towards rural communities in the Cuttack district which were directly in the path of the cyclone. Work includes rebuilding houses and providing winter crop seeds. Loans are being provided for people living in slums and agricultural labourers whose mud-thatched houses were destroyed.

THREAD, also supported by Christian Aid, is working with two women's groups in their rehabilitation efforts. With the help of volunteers they are removing sand from the paddy fields to enable new sowing to take place and rebuilding houses with local materials.

What you can do:

Help raise funds for the people of Orissa as they begin to rebuild their lives. Your contribution can make a difference to those who have suffered. Pray for the people of Orissa.

For further information on the situation in Orissa or on Christian Aid's work in India, contact Ramani Leathard on (44) (0)171 523 2334