Exactly a year ago Odisha witnessed one of the deadliest cyclones in recent history. Dozens died, lakhs of people were rendered homeless. It was a rare summer cyclone (cyclone season usually begins in October) and the state saw an outbreak of water-borne diseases, which further increased due to the acute shortage of drinking water. Still, Odisha was successful in keeping the loss of life and numbers of affected people to a minimum, due to being well prepared and responding quickly.
Over the past months, the state has managed to bring normalcy, but the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has forced the authorities to turn towards dealing with this new crisis. However, the question is: “Are the communities in this region prepared for the occurrence of another cyclone, especially when we already in a major health crisis?”
It has been widely reported that the government has done reasonably well in trying to contain the deadly virus, compared to the number of positive cases and casualties in western economies. Yet, it is obvious that we need strong resilience measures at the community level besides those of the government. Private individuals, with proper support, working with communities can make a big difference. Even simple steps like redeveloping drinking water wells and adequate counselling of the affected residents can help provide drinking water, which is the biggest issue. For the redevelopment of dwelling units that would be resilient to future occurrences, these can be developed using locally available construction material and the skillset of the residents.
The second aspect we need to look at is, making community members capable of supporting themselves immediately when a crisis hits. It is important to empower communities to become self-resilaint and resilient to challeges against their lives. Speaking of resilience, it was a group of women volunteers from Penthakata Urban Slum in Puri district of Odisha, adversely affected by Cyclone Fani last year who led the way by mobilizing close to INR 1,25,000 in a span of mere 15 days. The money collected was saved to ensure that family members of these women and especially children do not remain hungry in case such a disaster occurs again. This is indeed a true portrayal of resilient communities who are empowered enough to bounce back during such crtical times.
Looking at the vulnerability index of the region, Odisha sits on a land excessively prone to disasters. Organisations like SELCO Foundation SEEDS have come together to converge energy solutions with the disaster response and preparedness mechanism, respectively. Additionally, to take the interventions forward at the ground level, support from NGOs like SPANDAN is also sought to empower local skill sets and organisations like these and ensure highly impactful support to the community members. These initiatives include installation of solar power panels on the roofs of schools and homes to ensure uninterrupted power supply in the event of power wires snapping during a cyclone. It is due to unique interventions like these that programmes, community members are now coming forward and are will to provide contribute with their support to the best of its capabilities.
Community members have made this movement formal by establishing self-help groups that meet regularly to discuss aspects that need attention at the community/village level. These groups are regularly counselled by NGOs working in this area. SEEDS, for instance, has managed and has helped support these NGOs to conduct activity risk assessment and make plans for future needs.
All these are steps in the right direction, but there is a need to build a system of checks and balances to ensure proper on-ground implantation. While the efforts of the humanitarian organisations are still to ensure that development reach even the interiors of the country,many districts are still awaiting such programmes. We need to create value chains with greater efficiency to ensure that future generations do not suffer during any catastrophe.