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Indian Red Cross sailing the last mile to reach flood-affected people
21.10.2013 - New Delhi, India

As the flood situation after cyclone Phailin worsened, volunteers showed up at the Odisha state branch of Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) in Bhubaneshwar, to lend a hand to pack relief packages.

Rajesh Kumar Mishra is doing his first day as a volunteer. "My father is a member of the Red Cross. It comes natural for me to help the people in need," he explained and tied up the plastic bag filled with candles, matches, rice, sugar, salt, and biscuits.

At his side, 12-year old Rajat Kumar Gochhe, a Junior Red Cross member who dedicates two days to assist in the relief work. Concentrated, he hurries between the different packing stations.

Overseeing the whole operation is the tireless IRCS State branch secretary Dr. Mangla Prashad Mohanty, who is using every minute to see that the people affected by floods are not forgotten in the aftermath of the cyclone.

"This is the moment to execute the auxiliary role of the Red Cross to the government. We are well placed in the communities, and are through our network, not to say spirit, of volunteers best suited to act," he says.

Dr. S.P. Agarwal, IRCS Secretary General, says, “The government has done a good job in evacuation and immediate relief, and IRCS volunteers and staff are instrumental now in assisting communities near the 75 Red Cross shelters with on-going needs to help them liquidate the consequences and return to normal life as soon as possible.”

IRCS relief items being transported to flood affected villages.

The challenge is now to reach villages in the districts of Balasore, Mayurbhanj, Bhadrak, Kendrapada, Jajpur and Puri districts, as the floodwater continues to leave thousands stranded and large swathes are inundated.

When the relief truck was reaching the "new" shore in the village of Siriapada, a team of Red Cross volunteers began shift the load to the relief boats, a pair of traditional Indian wooden boats, each with a cox.

As the volunteer team set off, they saw hectares of su bmerged rice paddies and mangrove. Only partly visible, were electricity poles, leaning sideways, and the wires dangerously close to the surface of the water.

The team-leader quickly picks up the mobile phone. The list of villages is long, and she needs to ensure the community leaders are ready upon arrival. Here, as in other places, IRCS is matching low-tech practice with high-tech to be as efficient as possible.

There is already a crowd waiting as the boat sailed into the first village. Gitanjali Paikara, a mother of four children, comes wading to receive her relief package. Around her, people are standing on their roofs.

"We have never seen this amount of water," she says, dragging her sari in the water. "In my house, it reaches to the chest, and we cannot stay there."

She, as everyone else, is lacking food and has no alternative but to drink and cook in the muddy water surrounding the houses. The relief package from the Red Cross along with bags of safe drinking water is a welcome relief. Dr. S.P. Agarwal, IRCS Secretary General, adds, “In view of the situation, we have mobilized 6 water treatment units, together with Red Cross water and sanitation response teams, to provide potable drinking water to the affected people.”

The children cling to the Red Cross boats, eager to know what's happening. All but 12-year old Laxmi Priya Srichandan who at first remains at a distance. Then curiosity takes overhand, and she advances.

"There's nowhere to be," she says, looking down. "The school is closed, and at home, water up to my belly. Me and my two sisters sleep on a bed of bamboo sticks above the water."

The story is repeated in village after village, where the only hope visible is the IRCS relief arriving by boat. Long into the night, the boats keep on going to village after village. The volunteers arranging the lists of beneficiaries with the help of a torch to once again embrace the fact that no one should be left alone in the disasters.

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