India Cyclones Update: Who is CARE Helping ?

Nialli, Orissa State, India - Pramilla Mallick lives beside the road with her two children in Onglo village in the Cuttack district of Orissa. Since her husband died nine years ago, she has supported her family by working on betel leaf plantations and paddy fields and by doing road construction. Unable to find work since the cyclones hit, destroying her mud hut, she says despairingly, "I do not know what to do."
Hara Nayak, of Erancha in the Kakatpur block (county) of the district of Jagatsinghpur, is comparatively better off. His main business is the cultivation of betel leaves. The betel leaves, also known as paan, come from the ivy family. To grow well they need shade and a lot of moisture. Thus a bamboo and wire structure covered with coconut leaves protects the plants from the sun and maintains the required moisture in the plantation.

This year, Hara Nayak had invested nearly $500 (the average annual per capita income in Orissa is about $100) in his 50-row plantation and was looking forward to a good crop and resulting income this winter, which is when the paan prices shoot up. But the cyclones blew the protective shelter for his plants away.. The plants, which he still waters, now lie on the ground covered with straw but will soon die if he can't find money to build a new structure.

Padla Parida, of Balabhadrapur village in the Astranga block of the Puri district, supports a family of eight. His ripe, ready-to-harvest paddy crop on half an acre of land has been flooded by seawater. He was patiently cutting the half-dry crop when we reached the village. "I may be able to retrieve about 10 percent, but that is if the weather remains as sunny as it is now and mold does not set in," he said.

Also in the Astranga block of Puri, Sahana village lies just 500 yards from the sea, and is home to about 1,500 fishermen. It is separated from the sea by a casuarina plantation that runs along the beach. Casuarina trees are used for firewood. The village's jetty used to lie on a meandering tidal river that flows out to the sea. Today, there is no trace of that jetty and the sand banks of the river are a graveyard of damaged boats which the fishermen have crudely patched up to make them seaworthy.

Sudama Kanali's boat lies smashed nearly a mile away along the coast among the casuarina trees. A few human bodies lie nearby. Sudama earns about $600 each year from his fishing business and is considered to be well off in his village. "My nets were saved because they got buried under my house. My boat is a big loss because I had taken out a $1,200 loan for it, which has not yet been repaid," he said.

Through its interventions, CARE will target people like Pramila, Hara and Padla in 11 blocks of the four cyclone-affected coastal districts of Orissa. CARE is planning to introduce livelihood support programs in agriculture and other sectors. This will benefit small farmers who will be provided with kits containing tools, seeds, fertilizer and other necessary items. Fishermen will get nets and even boats. Programs to provide easier access to credit also are being devised.

Of the 11 blocks affected by the cyclones, Astrang, Mahakalpara and Kujang have been most affected by salt water flooding. Depending on the degree of saline penetration, experts suggest it may take about two years for the land and fields to recover.

"Salinity becomes a problem only if sea water remains stagnant for more than six hours. In most of our block, the sea water sat for less than two hours before rain washed the rest away," explains Arjun Swain, CARE's assistant agriculture officer in Kakatpur.

CARE is considering trying to speed the land's revival by chemically treating the soil to neutralize the salinity. Another possible solution is the introduction of a salt-resistant strain of paddy called Lunishree, which can grow even in brackish water. Using this method, farmers in the other eight blocks would be able to sow the next paddy crop in December, provided damaged irrigation canals are repaired. CARE will provide seed and fertilizer kits to farmers.

Tackling betel plantations may be more of a challenge, as they require immediate intervention. Field visits revealed that wealthy farmers already have drawn on their own resources to start rebuilding their plantations. The small-scale, marginal farmers, however, are in danger of losing their plantations unless loans are quickly made available.

Other rehabilitation efforts by CARE include food-for-work programs to rebuild schools, anganwadi (child-care) and public health centers. Nearly all the schools and local anganwadi centers were completely destroyed. Most of the school buildings were poorly constructed and hence, could not withstand the winds, however brick and mortar buildings survived the winds. In the longer term, CARE also plans to build several multi-purpose cyclone shelters at strategic locations along the coast.