UNICEF: Cyclones in Orissa 31 Dec 1999

Friday, 31 December 1999: In the wake of the two massive storms which devastated the Indian state of Orissa in late October, UNICEF continues to provide humanitarian assistance to the millions of people affected. The agency's comprehensive plan to assist the children of Orissa and their families involves a commitment of more than US $20 million.

During an 11-day span in late October 1999, the Indian state of Orissa was devastated by two powerful cyclones affecting more than 18,000 villages. The current official death toll remains at 9,885. But villagers are still discovering bodies as standing flood water continues to recede. The final death toll may be much higher.

Some 3 million homes were damaged, including 1.5 million which were completely destroyed. An estimated 7.5 million people remain homeless; 18,000 km of roads have been damaged and over 95,000 hectares of forests have been destroyed, including 9 million trees.

The Situation of Children

Though children were made extremely vulnerable in several ways, there is one bright spot. Child health, a major concern, was safeguarded to a great extent through the rapid interventions of the State Government and NGOs, as well as UNICEF, to decontaminate drinking water supplies and establish latrines.

In addition, an ongoing programme of health education prior to the cyclones helped to reduce deaths from disease. It is widely believed that a Vitamin A supplementation programme, supported by UNICEF just before the cyclones hit, increased children's immunity and protected them from disease.

The education situation is less encouraging. Although official figures put the number of damaged or destroyed schools at 11,000, unofficial estimates indicate that the total could be as high as 27,000. Many of those schools still standing have been used as emergency shelters. An estimated 270,000 students between the age of 6 and 14 are out of school. School materials are in urgent demand.

In the area of water and sanitation, testing of water supplies indicate that recontamination of tubewells has not been as widespread as first feared. Only 3 per cent of wells tested show signs of recontamination, and measure have been taken to clean these water sources. There are still no reports of epidemics among adults or children.

The UNICEF Response

UNICEF was appointed as the lead UN agency in Orissa for co-ordination of relief and rehabilitation efforts. In the early weeks of the response, UNICEF provided much-needed water purification tablets, health kits, blankets, water tanks and jerry cans, candles, high-energy biscuits, oral rehydration salts, and other emergency items.

The current emphasis is on grassroots planning and a transition from emergency operations to rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.

As needed, UNICEF is still helping meet basic emergency needs. For example, with night-time temperatures starting to drop, UNICEF is committed to providing an immediate 258,000 blankets.


UNICEF is helping in the resumption of normal health and development activities. The agency supported a National Immunization Day for polio on 19 December in Orissa. The campaign was run state-wide, and targeted over 4.5 million children under the age of five. UNICEF helped pay for the vaccine, provided support for the transport of vaccines, funded local publicity campaigns, supported the maintenance of the cold chain, and helped mobilise local health workers to administer vaccinations.

UNICEF has also continued to focus on the care and treatment of people suffering from trauma. First assessments indicate that in Kendrapara and Jagatasinghpur districts, which were badly affected by the cyclone, up to 65 per cent of the population are suffering from psycho-social disorders. UNICEF has agreed to help train teams of psychiatrists that are being recruited from other States.

In the area of child protection, the development of community centres for orphaned and vulnerable children has continued at a rapid pace. Some centres have been named "Mamata Gruha" -- motherly love homes.


UNICEF has been working with the State Government to identify and prioritise needs. The main area of need is in the provision of classroom and teaching materials. UNICEF has agreed to support the provision of text books for children up to the age of 12. UNICEF has also agreed to support the provision of over 20,000 school kits -- including blackboards, workbooks, and the like -- to replace resources destroyed or damaged by the cyclone. UNICEF is also providing 12,000 tarpaulins to make damaged schools weatherproof until long-term reconstruction commences.

UNICEF is also planning to support the publication of a bi-monthly information bulletin, which will be distributed across the cyclone affected districts, giving details of relief and rehabilitation measures by the State Government and NGOs. The bulletin will be produced by a consortium of local journalists. Each issue will be read by up to 150,000 people.

Water and Sanitation

Over 660 kitchen camps (feeding centers) have now been equipped with water tanks and water storage facilities with the support of UNICEF. The need for 1,200 new tubewells has been indentified following the cyclone, to replace those damaged beyond repair or to supplement existing water sources. To date, UNICEF has supported the provision of 686 of these required wells. In addition UNICEF has supported the reconstruction of 121 village water pipe networks which deliver clean water to communities.

For more information on UNICEF, visit its website at