Providing transitional shelters to 5,242 flood-affected families in Orissa, India

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Manorama lives in a flood-prone region. As for many other families living in the village, her house is not very strong, and after a flood she usually has to rebuild parts of it. With the help from DCA, Manorama and her family is getting a new house of bricks and concrete, which can resist future floods.

“This is bania-anchal (a flood-prone region) and we are used to floods,” Manorama Pradhan says. “In fact, we are not scared of floods.

Upon the first indication of a flood, we grab our kids, cattle and our meagre belongings and leave the place. We return when the water recedes.” she says.

It takes people in Bhagban Sundra village a month to re-do their home, so that they can enter the renovated home in time to celebrate Deepawali, the Hindu festival of lights.

The worst floods in living memory

Incessant rain for over four days in the coastal districts of the state of Orissa along India’s eastern coastline resulted in the rivers swelling to the brim.

As it poured from the heavens above, the river embankments showed signs of giving away and in some places, where rivers breached its embankments, a flood would ensue.

These were the worst floods in living memory.

According to reports issued by the government, more than 2.79 million people, across 95 administrative blocks in 19 of the state’s 30 districts were affected.

Crucial to provide transitional shelters

DanChurchAid, with funding from the European Commission Humanitarian Office, began a relief operation in the worst affected districts of Puri, Kendrapara and Jajpur.

The relief work entailed providing assistance to the flood affected population over a span of six months.

Many people lost their homes, and it was crucial to construct transitional shelters for some of the most vulnerable people affected by the flood.

As is often the case, the worst affected also happen to be the most vulnerable – the poorest sections of the village populations, mainly comprising of dalits or social untouchables, or sometimes an entire village of dalits that happens to be a low-lying area.

A veteran of many a flood

Manorama Pradhan is a veteran of many a flood – so many has she seen in her 37 years that she has lost count.

The woes that come with the floods are not as painful as is the pain of living the life of a destitute.

Manorama’s husband deserted her 11 years ago, leaving to her to take care of his aged parents and three children.

Since then, she says, there has not been a year without floods. But, she reiterates, no flood has been as bad.

The floods are followed by a renovation of their dwellings that is just good enough to last till the next floods, when the villagers once again grab their children, their cattle and their belongings to survive another disaster.

They do not have the money and resources to construct a stronger, elevated house that can withstand the flood. So, they just re-do the mud plaster. The structure remains the same.

Waiting for the water to recede

“My house broke down this year. We live in the lowest part of the village. The clay mud that binds the bamboo walls began peeling as we left and a few hours later I saw my thatch roof floating away,” Manorama explains, speaking of the worst flood in years, the fury of the water unmatched by any other event she had seen before.

“Floods meant doing up the mud plastering for the bamboo walls of our house. We had never seen the roof float away,” Manorama says.

The family carried her aged mother-in-law to put up on the roadside where various organisations served them with food during the initial days of the flood.

The village has a disaster mitigation team and the volunteers organised the relief.

DanChurchAid came in to help the villagers with relief – non-food items like a sheet of tarpaulin to cover their heads, blankets to protect them during the coming winter, mosquito nets, a hygiene kit for their sanitation and a bucket.

“It was a gruelling wait. There was nothing we could do but to wait. We waited for the water to recede so that we could begin reconstructing the house.

Besides this, we waited for the relief stocks to arrive,” she says, recalling the time they spent in the immediate aftermath of the floods.

A better house with brick walls and mortar pillars

However, they did not have to reconstruct the house as Manorama was shortlisted by DanChurchAid for receiving assistance for a new transitional shelter.

The members of the village disaster mitigation team identified her as someone deserving a transitional housing assistance.

The shelter, constructed over 215 square feet, is made of bricks and concrete and its walls are plastered with a cement and sand mix – a far cry from their earlier dwelling.

Above all, the house has been raised so that the floodwaters do not enter it. The house promises to be one of the best houses in the village. It has been designed to withstand a big flood.

DanChurchAid is helping 5,242 extremely poor and vulnerable families get a new house of their own – transitional houses, by any stretch of imagination, yet these houses are far better than what the people have previously lived in.

While a vast majority of the beneficiaries are dalits, some like Manorama Pradhan from the farming community also get housing assistance because of her so obviously helpless situation.

A safe home for the family

A skilled mason has been employed by DanChurchAid to help Manorama with the construction of the house.

Apart from the brick wall and mortar pillars, the house will look like any other house in the vicinity with its thatch roof ensuring protection against the summer heat. The process of construction ensures that Manaroma gets paid for the work she does on the construction. The payment of Rs 125 that she receives for a day’s work helps in feeding the family and paying for the education of her children.

“This new house will be better,” Manorama says, brimming with happiness. With some good brick-work and at a higher level, this will mean that during floods in future, the water will not enter the house and the family can stay here safely.

This adds an altogether different dimension to the understanding of housing for the extremely poor people in the region for whom housing has been a means to cover their heads.

The bamboo houses could not, for instance, prevent a snake from boring a hole to enter through. This is a safety that a brick-wall will provide.

Neighbours are also welcome to seek shelter

Manorama is also aware of the benefits of a house like this, not only for her family but also for the neighbours who can find shelter here. But she is happy about this.

She knows that the neighbours have stood by her in her most trying times.

The bonding that comes by being part of a community is irreplaceable, especially in this part of the world where people depend so much on their communities.

A strong house, made of bricks, concrete and mortar will also help neighbours seek refuge.

Manorama will only be very happy to share the safety of her home with them.

“Yes, I will be happy to accommodate them,” she says. “It will be different for me as I will not be looking for refuge.

The neighbours too will be here, unlike previous floods when we sought refuge along the road. That way, this house is a big boon for 10 to 12 neighbouring families.”

By Bijoy Basant Patro