India faces 10-year recovery

BY DANIEL R. GANGLER | New Delhi, India | January 20, 2000

It will take 10 years for India to recover from October 1999 cyclones and rain storms, according to disaster response experts.

An estimated 20,000 people died in two cyclones which hit India's eastern coastal state of Orissa. The later one, a super-cyclone, roared for 48 hours with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour causing a 20-foot high tidal wave that reached 12 miles inland. The bodies of only 10,000 have been recovered. Most who died were subsistence fishermen and migrant farmers.

Approximately 1.3 million houses were damaged or destroyed, according to government reports. In this region, over 60 percent of the people live below the poverty level. According to UNICEF, this represents 18,000 villages and some 12.7 million survivors, including an estimated 3.7 million children. Total damages are estimated at $3.5 billion.

Faith-based and government relief agencies are in their second or recovery phase of relief, following the initial emergency phase. Some of those efforts are running low on funds to complete their recovery objectives. All relief work is being coordinated by India's government working with relief agencies.

Church World Service (CWS) provided $70,000 to partner agency Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), which initiated emergency relief measures immediately following the cyclones. CWS also supported a financial appeal issued by Action by Churches Together (ACT).

Many mainline Protestant churches are sharing recovery work through ACT, which is coordinated through the World Council of Churches and Lutheran World Federation, both based in Geneva, Switzerland. India ACT members, which include CASA, Lutheran World Service (LWS) India, and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of India continue to work together.

According to ACT reports, recovery includes materials to build shelters and houses for 1,000 families, 25 shelters that double as schools with each to accommodate up to 400 people, 100 deep tube wells to assure safe water for up to 15,000 families, and 200,000 coconut saplings to replace uprooted trees. An estimated 900,000 coconut trees were destroyed by the cyclones. It will take 15 years for the trees to mature.

More than 85 ACT staff members and 20 support volunteers have traveled to villages to distribute food. Installation of wells, shelters, and tree planting is expected to be completed by October 2000, according to ACT reports.

ACT/LWS spent $1.3 million on emergency relief efforts and plans to spend another $2.2 million during recovery efforts.

Lutheran World Relief reports that much more aid is needed. ACT is well short of the $5 million required for its planned recovery activities.

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) spokeswoman Joan Cosby said her relief organization is working with the Evangelical Fellowship of India Committee on Relief. CRWRC is supplying 585 metric tons of rice for distribution to the neediest families in Orissa.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) has centered its recovery efforts on 10 hard-hit villages in the Ganjam District of India. ADRA has assisted village leaders to organize and help 3,300 families with debris cleanup. According to Dennis Tidwell, ADRA India director, the families "cleared broken trees and rubbish from their villages and from the access roads to their villages, cleaned up ponds and wells, and helped each other clean away tons of mud where their adobe houses once stood."

In return ADRA provided each participating family with 132 pounds of rice, 22 pounds of lentils, blankets, clothing, and kitchen utensils over a two-month period. ADRA spent $200,000 on this recovery.

"Nearly all the affected villages are located on sand dunes close to the beach, where most inhabitants normally earn a living by fishing," said Tidwell.

To help with recovery in Orissa, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), in coordination with Caritas India, is distributing household recovery packages to more than 45,000 families. Each family is receiving food rations, vegetable seeds, blankets, plastic sheeting, hand tools, clothing, and cooking utensils. Each village received several watering cans to enable cultivation during the dry season.

To date CRS has committed $500,000 of its privately donated funds and has raised $1.1 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development for the Orissa cyclone recovery.

CRS and its local partners are also planning agricultural recovery in Orissa. The program includes sanitizing contaminated wells, distributing fishing nets and tools, and constructing cyclone shelters and cyclone-proof houses. CRS is providing logistic and technical assistance to Caritas and its network of more than 500 volunteers.

During initial emergency relief efforts, CRS and Caritas helped distribute 6,000 metric tons of food aid from the U.S. government to more than 700,000 people in nearly 600 villages in Orissa. They also distributed $1 million worth of non-food relief, including cooking utensils, blankets, and plastic sheeting.

Oxfam International, a British-based relief agency, reports it has played a major part in relief efforts by sanitizing and restoring water supplies. Oxfam also has been involved in food distribution through its local partners.

As part of its rehabilitation work, CARE International, a relief organization based in Brussels, Belgium, is concentrating on the reconstruction of houses and public buildings, such as schools, primary health centers, and community centers. According to Basant Mohanty, CARE's program director in Orissa, "these public buildings will serve a dual purpose -- as schools and health centers during normal time, and during storms, they will be used as cyclone shelters. Many lives were lost in the cyclone for want of shelters."

To provide employment, road-laying work has been undertaken as part of a "food-for-work" program. "Many roads were damaged by flood waters, and to restart economic activity, there is an urgent need for repairs and relaying of roads," said Mohanty. To work on this and other recovery programs, CARE says it needs another $5 million. So far, CARE has provided relief worth $6.4 million to survivors of the cyclones.

As part of its ongoing relief efforts, the United Nation's World Food Program (WPF) continues to provide food assistance to cyclone survivors. The WFP activities have been designed to support the government's relief and rehabilitation efforts. To date, WFP has made available: 234 tons of high-energy biscuits, 1,122 tons of rice, and 2,554 tons of blended food. WFP food aid has so far been distributed through the Integrated Child Development Services program and some through the Indian Red Cross, the Council for Professional Social Workers (CPSW), and ActionAid.

The International Red Cross (IRC) said the government in India has already reduced the level of relief food distribution while starting food-for-work initiatives. At the same time, India has announced grants for rebuilding houses as well as for the death of an "earning family member," and continuation of subsidized rice selling programs for the disaster areas until the next harvest in May.

The rebuilding of individual houses could be completed well before the May harvest as there are plenty of available building materials. But the IRC said the process has slowed because people are waiting to have their houses inspected to qualify for the grants.

Like many other relief agencies, the IRC's Orissa State Branch of 40 salaried staff and approximately 600 volunteers has been involved in building cyclone shelters, with another 120 volunteers involved in IRC relief operations in outlying villages. According to IRC estimates, 86 percent of the affected villages had received the planned distribution of relief assistance by the end of 1999.

To date, 50,000 families have received 790 metric tons of rice, 160 metric tons of lentils, 26,000 liters of oil, and 65,000 blankets. Kitchen sets, tarpaulins, clothing, bleaching powder, and water purification tablets are also being delivered. The IRC hopes to complete this phase by June 2000.

Of greatest concern now is a health risk that could become a second disaster. Orissa's vulnerability to vector-borne diseases has vastly increased with apprehensions of a possible outbreak of malaria running high this time of year, considered a peak period for malaria transmission.

A concerted official effort to quell such an outbreak has not yet been initiated, though the Orissa state government has at its disposal adequate stock of insecticides and equipment.

According to news reports the director of India's anti-malarial program, Dr. Shiv Kumar, advised the state department recently to initiate various preventative measures aimed at controlling malaria in the cyclone-affected areas. By the end of December, spraying and fogging activities had been undertaken for only around 10 percent of the identified malaria-prone people residing in the affected districts.

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