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The Most Vulnerable Squeezed in Twin Calamity in India
17.10.2013 - New Delhi, India

At first, it seems as if the story on cyclone Phailin is over. Up to one million people evacuated, and thousands of lives saved. However, in the trails of the cyclone, destruction and despair linger on.

It raises high above the village of Surapur, the Red Cross square cyclone shelter on four sturdy legs. This building has stood the test of time since it was erected in 1995. This weekend, it was once again home to some 500 villagers, when cyclone Pailin swept in over the east-coast of India.

Kamala comes walking across the path to the shelter. She moves with caution, a shy smile on her face, as she is balancing her weight. She is expecting her second child, already eight-month pregnant. Kamala was one of them heading to the shelter as soon as she knew about the approaching cyclone.

"I acted as soon as I heard the early warnings through the megaphones of the Red Cross volunteers. That was a day before the cyclone was supposed to make landfall, but I went anyhow. I didn't want to risk anything. Then, the cyclone, accompanied with heavy rain hit the following night. I was scared, knowing I couldn’t move very fast," she says, and looks out from the stairs leading up to the shelter.

From here, she can observe the space under the shelter, where people bring their animals during cyclones and floods. In this case cows which are thoroughly tied up to stop them from being swept away by flash floods. She can observe her neighbours treading through muddy water, carrying children, a bucket of water, dragging along a coat. Further away, she sees the streaming water of the river Rushikulya, whose water levels have risen dangerously after the heavy rainfall during the cyclone.

The twin calamity of the cyclone and the resulting floods have affected over 11 million people, with five districts in the State of Odisha under surging flood waters. More than 400,000 hectares of crops damaged. Add on 250,000 houses lost in the cyclone, forcing many people to remain in shelters and take refuge to rehabilitation centres, of which Indian Red Cross has 36 up and running.

"Although I commend all the joint efforts on preparedness, which saved the lives of thousands of people, the emergency phase is far from over," says Dr. Agarwal, Secretary General for Indian Red Cross. "In the trail of the cyclone people are destitute, and the needs for food, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene are to remain high for considerable time ahead."

To fisherman K. Simadri, a man of small means in the village of Gopalpur, these words are a living reality. As the cyclone gained forced while crossing the Bay of Bengal, he and the other fishermen helped carry the heavy boats to supposed safety on higher ground. The day after the cyclone, he went down to the wide-stretched beach with the rain streaming down his face, his heart drumming. Where was the boat? He tried to focus his regard, while taking in the scene of fishing nets and debris all over. But soon he realized, it was gone.

"How should I make a living now? he is asking with distress in his voice, while showing his mud-brick house with heavy cracks in the roof and in urgent need of repair. "With no roof, the rain water will come in, and my family will not be protected. The little we have to eat will go bad, as will our few clothes."

Some hundred meters away, Kamudama is trying to hide her tears, as she stands in the garden outside her modest house. Or, rather what was her house. The thatched roof is in scrambles and the ground bear proof of the humungous strength of the cyclone. Trees are up-rooted and the walls of her house partly damaged. And in this crisis, she is alone. She, as many of the wives of fishermen along the coast of Odisha, has been forced to see their husbands migrating to more prosperous waters, like in Goa. That leaves them in a much vulnerable situation, as the responsibility for the household far extends her efforts, and income is not certain.

"I'm left to myself," she says, her scattered world in front of her. "No one here to help me, and no money."

Recognizing that beyond all high numbers, every disaster is personal, Indian Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is scaling up to assist people like Kamudama and others. The number one priority being shelter and safe water drinking water.

Already 15,000 prepositioned tarpaulins have been moved from the Red Cross warehouses. Some 5000 families will also receive family package containing kitchen utensils, women clothing (sari), men clothing (dhoti), mosquito net, and bed sheets.

Water from hand pumps in the affected areas is contaminated by sea water or flood water. Three large and two small water treatment units are being put in place. IRCS watsan trained experts have arrived Odisha to operate these units for provision of clean drinking water.

Yet, not of this would not be possible without the strength of the network of Red Cross volunteers in the communities. And as the night falls in, Laksmi Kanta Behira who heads the Shelter Disaster Managing Committee in Surapur, is looking after those coming in to spend yet another night in the safety of the Red Cross. The shelter is where it belongs, in the middle of the village.
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