India

India: Three years after super-cyclone, villages have shelters that double as schools, and more

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By Kathryn Wolford, LWR president. [Wolford recently led a team that examined 'best practices' in LWR-supported programs in India.]
Baltimore, November 21, 2002 -- Three years ago this month, a 'super-cyclone' shattered lives and livelihoods of 12 million people on the eastern coast of India. Today local communities are back on their feet with storm shelters that double as schools, better ways to save each other from future disasters, and more.

Lutheran World Relief's local partner in this transformation of a tragedy is the Churches' Auxiliary for Social Action, or CASA. With help from U.S. Lutheran and other churches, CASA responded immediately to cyclone in 382 villages, providing food, cooking utensils, blankets, tarpaulins, medicines and lanterns. After a three-month emergency phase, CASA shifted into efforts to help people rebuild homes and recover livelihoods.

Through 'food for work' projects, community members received basic foodstuffs while working to repair homes, roads and water canals for irrigation. Such projects respect the dignity and initiative of local people in rebuilding their assets while also avoiding undue dependency on outside relief aid.

Wells constructed on raised platforms - for flood protection - now provide clean drinking water. Likewise, raised shelters will keep people safe from floods and are built to resist cyclonic winds. Just as important, the shelters provide much improved school classrooms for year-round use. As one villager put it, "This new school is a blessing where tragedy once reigned."

Today, three years after the cyclone, the focus is on education and training so that when other disasters strikes, communities will be able to minimize the loss of life and mobilize local resources. This is crucial because in major emergencies it may be days before outside rescue teams and supplies reach remote villages. While the training focuses on disaster preparedness, it is clear that the organizational and leadership skills that are developed will serve the community in many other activities as well.

Disaster preparedness and reducing the vulnerability of poor communities in times of disaster are a centerpiece of LWR's strategy for the next five years.

In the village of Ramchandrapur, Orissa, we met with community leaders and residents. The young people did a skit on how to mobilize the community when a cyclone is predicted. Then they led us through a simulation of what they would do in an emergency and of how they will save lives in a community that is ready to weather future storms. [For photos of rescue drills and of shelters that double as schools, visit <www.lwr.org/news>.]