Odisha is on the path to rehabilitate people after devastation caused by Cyclone Fani, which was comparatively less than what happened 20 years back by the Super cyclone in 1999. But nonetheless, Odisha needs to face many challenges in relief and reconstruction of the state. No doubt this time the state was prepared to evacuate people, it had the resources and infrastructure due to better operating procedures in place. However to rehabilitate people - children, young and old, all after the destruction caused by the cyclone is not an easy task. Faced by aftermath problems of power shutdowns, water crisis, loss of property, assets, belongings, livelihoods, displacement, trauma, stress, possible outbreak of diseases involves a herculean job of reconstructing lives of people, some too young to understand the consequences, some disabled and having coping issues and many unprepared to tackle the situation for whatever personal and societal reasons.
It is true that because of past experiences of cyclones in the last few years, Super, Phailin, Titli, the state considered to be the most disaster prone in India has improved its disaster management skills. Yet restoring the lives of the vulnerable is difficult unless the government takes head on both short and long term planning to reach out to those who generally get left behind in rehabilitation due to various reasons. The required humanitarian action to manage the cyclone created disaster is humongous especially when dealing with the vulnerable populations residing in coastal areas. Responding to their physical, emotional and overall health needs, building their resilience is essential in rebuilding lives and facing life after calamities. The children, single men and more so women, older people, those with special needs, be it because of pregnancy, disability, frailty and other disadvantaged situations, economic, social need special consideration in rescue operations and rehabilitation. Ensuring smooth flow of incomes, daily wages, as well as supply of food, clean drinking water and medicines becomes critical for people to be able to resume their lives and get back to normality as soon as possible.
Besides restoring environmental conditions and removing natural barriers suitable for human existence becomes imperative especially since the ecological and infrastructural damage caused by Fani cyclone is phenomenal, larger than what is anticipated.
The poor in both rural and urban areas need special attention for relief work whether by the government or civil society members. Their specific needs for social security and protection, for ensuring employment, wages, adequate shelter, appropriate facilities for meeting their daily needs requires consideration and proper planning for not only immediate existence but to manage their lives in the future too. With certain areas being more prone to disasters, having cyclone resilient construction of buildings, shelters, spaces and surroundings is pertinent to secure living as much as it is to build psychological strength of the people, especially for those vulnerable to face natural tragedies. Our cities lack planning and suitable adaptability to climatic crisis and when faced with disasters such as happened due to Fani cyclone, it becomes a challenge to cope with the consequences. The vulnerable get neglected and left behind in rehabilitation efforts as they are not only a low priority but difficult to reach because of them not enjoying advantageous conditions. For such section of the society the disaster affected impact is severe and devastating.
As reports of damages pour in from Odisha organisations working for the rehabilitation of the vulnerable such as HelpAge India, Red Cross Society reveal the drastic impact on huge number of people in districts of Angul, Balasore, Bhadrak, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Kendrapar, Keonjhar, Khordha, Mayurbhanj, Nayagarh and Puri. It is being reported that while people residing in blocks and villages are affected with their shelters destroyed, amenities becoming scarce, food prices skyrocketing, and livestock casualties are also enormous. A large number of electricity towers and transformers are damaged, power and water supply disrupted. Many temporary structures belonging to the poor along with pucca buildings of offices, educational institutions have been completely pulled apart resulting in injuries to dwellers, in many cases requiring hospitalization but with medical centres damaged becoming difficult to accommodate patients. Besides there has been other forms of destruction too, such as uprooting of trees, disruption of road communication, breakdown in telecommunication, severe damage to summer crops, plantations, fishery sector with fishing harbours, fish farms and other infrastructures damaged.
We do see action on ground to improve the condition of people and restore damages to bring back life to normalcy but what needs to be kept in mind is that in relief operations the vulnerable are given special attention. It is important that no one gets left behind and all equally get the benefit of cyclone management response. Post cyclonic activities must be monitored and supervised to reach the maximum in minimal time so that restoration work is done without any differences in reach out be it in coastal, rural or urban areas or for any cross-section of the population in the state. The difficulties in making ends meet must in particular for the vulnerable be eased out, only then can the relief and restoration work be done, leaving no one behind from the estimated 14 million affected people by the Fani cyclone.
The writer is a sociologist working as associate professor, Maitreyi College, South Campus University of Delhi...