Cyclone Fani has left behind a trail of devastation and acute suffering in Odisha. The challenge now is to restore the livelihood of people.
It was extremely crucial to evacuate people. It is equally important to provide basic necessities so that people can stand on their own feet.
The record of relief and rehabilitation efforts in Odisha is not good when compared to evacuation. If we go by government records, 11 districts in Odisha with a population of 1.07 crore, have been affected by cyclone Fani. This is a big number and therefore government and civil society organisations have a mammoth task in front of them.
Repairs and rehabilitation work need to be done quickly owing to the upcoming monsoon season. After the initial relief announced by the government, the rehabilitation should be done within six months to one year.
Houses must be immediately repaired, and then permanent houses should be built. In Bhubaneswar, slum dwellers living in makeshift shanties have been rendered homeless without shelter, food or clean water. Odisha government has announced financial assistance for families affected by cyclone Fani. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced an aid of Rs 95,100 for families whose houses have been fully damaged, Rs 5,200 for families whose homes have been partially damaged homes and Rs 3,200 for minor damages.
The government has also announced relief packages. All families covered under the National food Security Act in Puri and Khurda administrative division will get 50 kg of rice, Rs 2000 and polythene sheets.
If one looks at the construction and repairing costs, the financial assistance seems inadequate. The MGNREGA programme needs to be activated to clean debris in villages, urban slums and agricultural fields and to repair houses. Similarly, the government’s decision to provide 50 kg of rice is not enough. We need to supplement it with other food items. Rs 2000 in cash can be used to buy food, medicines and other essential items. The food support is needed for at least a month until people get back their livelihood. Along with food, it is important to provide clean drinking water. The government should provide people with aqua tabs and chlorine tablets for purifying water till damaged tube wells get repaired. With DRR features such as raised platform with proper outlet of water, it’s important to repair the tube wells as soon as possible. Hygiene kits comprising bucket, mug, soap, and sanitary napkins or clean clothes for women should be provided. A general observation is that since the cyclone shelter toilets are inadequate and unclean, people defecate in open. To avoid epidemics and water-borne diseases, it’s important to raise awareness regarding good hygiene.
Livelihood is another challenge since fisherfolk have been greatly affected. Generally, the subsidies go to the boat owners. But here it is the labourers in the boat who have been badly affected. They won’t have any livelihood till the boats are repaired. They are likely to take loans from the local money lenders for this. Therefore, it is important to help these people and provide them boats and fishing nets.
Similarly, since all the standing paddy crops are lost, we need to provide farmers with seeds and support them to clean their agricultural fields through MGNREGA. By doing this, the daily wage labourers can find employment within their villages. We can also try to rejuvenate some fruit-bearing trees and plant new ones especially cashew and mangoes. The kitchen garden support is also crucial to ensure food security.
With temperatures soaring to 45 degree Celsius, there is a need to create child-friendly spaces where the kids can play, read and perform extracurricular activities when their parents are engaged in restoration work. At the government level, it can be managed by ANM and civil society organisations. If their school textbooks have been damaged, the government needs to provide new material to children. Also, the schools must be repaired before summer vacation ends. In areas where electricity still hasn’t been restored, it is useful to give solar lamps to households.
We need to provide compensation packages to women as the head of the family. In case of families where woman is the sole earning member, the cash compensation must be higher. We need to ensure that livelihood compensation covers diverse activities other than agriculture such as drying fish, vegetable selling, running small shops etc., as women are disproportionately involved in small scale economic activities.
Last but not the least, we need to focus on two key points: First, there should be effective coordination among various government departments to assess damages and provide compensation and rehabilitation to people. Secondly, transparency and accountability mechanism should be put in place and the practice of putting sign boards and sharing expenditure details through social audits on emergency work should be done at Gram Panchayat level for better transparency. The civil society groups can prepare citizens reports to ensure accountability of the government in assisting the people affected by Cyclone Fani.
(Debabrata Patra is Regional Manager, ActionAid, Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Views expressed are personal.)