As Naveen Patnaik Take Charge, Rebuilding Cyclone ‘FANI’ Affected Areas and Restoring Lost Livelihoods’ of Communities Will be the Greatest Challenge

As Naveen Patnaik Take Charge, Rebuilding Cyclone ‘FANI’ Affected Areas and Restoring Lost Livelihoods’ of Communities Will be the Greatest Challenge

As 73 years old Naveen Patnaik has started his fifth innings (continuous fifth term in Office) as the Chief Minister of Odisha after a resounding victory in State Assembly elections held simultaneously with Country’s General Elections, the priorities are many. While Sr. State Government Officials have already started churning to deliver the benefits as was promised by Chief Minister and BJD President during the election campaign to transfer direct transfer of remaining installments of money under KALIA (the farmer benefit scheme) for 42 lakh farmers (have already received Rs 5,000)  and the first installment of newly inducted 25 lakh farm household immediately after taking oath( both the installments at a time) , the remaining amount was held back because of Model Code of Conduct after BJP’s complain to ECI. The next priority is implementation of electoral promises as listed in Party Manifesto.  

Amidst all these restoration and recovery of Cyclone Fani affected areas would be the first priority, so is the rehabilitation of severely affected lot. According to the situation report of the extremely severe cyclonic storm FANI, at least 18388 villages of 159 Blocks besides 51 number of Urban Local Bodies spread over 14 of the 30 districts of the Sate have been affected and the total population impacted is 1, 65, 55,507. Of them 5, 08,467 houses damaged and the total crop loss is estimated at 181711.4 hectare. Till today 64 human casualties have been reported. The severely affected district is Puri with 39 deaths followed by Khurdha with 9 and Cuttack 6. Maximum deaths caused by falling of wall or trees or electric lines. Till date Rs 152 lakh have been distributed to families of 39 deceased persons.

Though many eyebrows have been raised about the much talked about evacuation of at least 1.5 million (15, 57,170 persons) people just before Cyclonic Storm ‘FANI’ approached, the state government has left no stone unturned to take credit of the act as UN agencies have showered praise to the Government of Odisha and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Despite tall claims by Odisha Government, Cyclone Fani survivors of State’s Puri district are still in distress. Their never ending ordeal is not going to end soon as government officials are still finding it hard to restore electricity lines and drinking water supply even after twenty five days, many in the rural areas are struggling hard to fetch drinking water as many water bodies in the district have been contaminated due to water logging. They can live without food for few days but how can, they will live without water, electricity in this age? Amidst all these, to bring them back to normal livelihoods – has been the herculean task as their means of livelihoods has been completely devastated.

According to the loss estimates prepared by various departments of Puri district power supply network suffered huge loss of 1110 crore, loss to educational Institutions is about 305 crore, Tourism sector a whopping 250 crore, water supply system 51.46 crore, health sector 30 crore, irrigation system 78 crore, roads & buildings  84 crore and forest department has estimated  39.59 crore as greenery of entire district lost.

Meanwhile, Government of Odisha after a preliminary estimate has calculated a loss of 12,000 crore and has submitted a memorandum to Central Team which visited the state recently to estimate the losses due to Fani. Union Government had already released Rs 340 crore before the Cyclone seeing its magnamity. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his aerial survey on May 6th had promised of another Rs 1000 crore. While a detailed assessment is waited –as per the preliminary assessments the losses to government properties is estimated at Rs 6,167.26 crore and the requirements for  relief and restoration is pegged at Rs 6,767.56 crore.

“It’s good that government is busy calculating losses of infrastructures but how you would estimate the lost livelihoods’ of lakhs of sea going and Chilika  dependent Fishermen, Fish Traders and Artisan communities who are living in semi-starvation and have become jobless, who is going to give back their livelihoods’ ? “ questioned, President of Odisha Traditional Fish Worker’s Union (OTFWU) Prassana Behera.  

Odisha situated in the eastern sea board of India has been exposed to periodic tropical Cyclonic Storms. During the last two decades five major cyclones stuck to the state leaving trails of devastation, causing irreparable loss to State’s economy. And during the last 50 years 35 of such extremely sever Cyclonic storms hit Odisha.  Almost 60% of the tropical Cyclones which take shape in Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal region also hit Eastern Coast and especial parts of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. Bay of Bengal region is the 6th most vulnerable zones in the world as far as tropical cyclone storms are concerned.

“Because of the geographical location 482 kms Odsiha coast is exposed to all kinds of tropical cyclones sometimes it’s been severe in nature”, says Managing Director of Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) Bishnupada Sethi.

The 1999 super cyclone which caused death of 10,000 people was the first major Cyclone that brought state’s development to the grinding halt. It was first major Natural Disaster in post liberalization era that took the state to fifty years back though the state had witnessed Cyclones in 1956, 1971, 1977, 1982 floods in every alternative year in Mahanadi Delta besides frequently happening droughts in its western districts.

 Of late, an International delegation OF 23 members consisting of Representatives from UN Organizations’ like UNDP, WHO, ILO, UNICEF ,UNESCO,FAO besides representatives from World Bank and ADB  have visited Fani affected areas of Puri district and meet up with people who were severely affected like slum dwellers, fishermen, farmers and especially those who were rendered homeless. They also visited heritages, wildlife sanctuaries, tourism spots apart from these they also paid visit to betel vine, horticulture and poultry farms etc.

For lakhs of Marine and Chilika dependent traditional fishermen Cyclone Fani has caused irreparable loss as many of them have lost their day to day livelihoods because of the damage of boats and nets besides dwelling houses. Many are sitting idle and some of them have already started migrating to other states. Those who have come here to see their relatives from their workplaces elsewhere took their kith and keen with them.

“Leave aside the devastation caused by Fani to the basic infrastructures like electricity, water supply system, Schools and Government buildings; it completely washed away the basic livelihoods sources of farmers, fishermen, small traders and artisan communities, people have no option but to leave this place for an alternative livelihoods”, says Secretary of United Artist’s Association (UAA) Mangaraj Panda

Sukanti Bhoi,43, a widow was staying in a makeshift house with his old parents and daughter along the Ring Road of 1200 square kilometer -Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon Chilika spread through three adjacent districts of Easter Indian State of Odisha. To her utter surprise extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Fani(Foni) struck on the morning while they were sleeping of May 3 and within few hours the wind speed engulfed the entire area with more than 220 kmph (as said by the fellow villagers) leaving a trail of destruction in entire Puri, Khurdha including capital city Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Balesore and Ganjam (All Coastal districts).

Sukanti’s only dwelling thatched house with wall made with mud and clay collapsed. Finding no other option she still lives there with her father busy with reassembling the household items. Escorted her only daughter and grandson to a relative’s house in a nearby village. She had a narrow escape during the devastating Cyclone sheltering in the ring road. Many in her village Bhoi Sahi (Scheduled Caste, Hamlet) of Morada Village and Gram Panchayat under Krushnaprasad Block of worst affected Puri district. Even after twenty days of the Cyclone she still is struggling to rebuild her dwelling house. Sukanti was forced to leave her village Mahisa Berhampur because of Fishermen and Non-Fishermen conflict years ago.  

In the neighboring Jamuna Badasahi village with 170 households, people waited for at least 10 days to get the first installment of relief of Rs 2000 and 50 kgs of Rice. The Cyclone Shelter set up by Government of Odisha under Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project on World Bank assistance had saved life of people, who have been shifted here but they suffered huge losses as their only source of livelihoods’ summer crop damaged, Groundnut cultivation in almost 100 acres inundated with saline water ingression from Bay of Bengal.  Those who have no land they were depended upon Chilika to earn their livelihoods’ fishing in Chilika waters.

For the fishermen of Olanda Patna under Krushnaprasad Block of Puri district in South-Eastern Chilika, area where the landfall was expected in first phase when the cyclonic storm Fani moved towards Odisha- it was horrifying to witness such storm as they had never experienced like this ,it was almost double the wind speed what they had in Phailin in 2013.This fishing hamlet with 96 households surrounded by Chilika from three sides.  They lost everything boats, nets, household items and the entire area is water logged, even for drinking water women of the village have to stand in Q at the single tube well, the village has. While men folks are sitting idle for days together, women who were engaged in dry fish processing and leaf plate making have lost their source of income.  The 10 women Self Help Groups who were active have become jobless as the SHG building completely damaged.

“Not only the boat, net or house damaged our hope and aspirations got shattered because we had thought of something big to process the fish, prawn available here to sell them in Sukhua (dry fish) market in Ganjam”, says Malli Das, a women SHG leader.

She further added that Fani also destroyed our godown (Temporary ware house) where tons of dry fish was stored.

Supriya Das of the village while narrating the ordeal they faced after Fani, said that even after a week government officials had not reached us, only before the landfall they came here and handed over few packets of rice and vegetable for two days.

At least in the time of severe disaster like this, Government authorities are showing a lackluster attitude as if they have mercy for us says a fishermen leader Bijaya Kumar Das.

Das, president of fishermen society further added that we got polythene sheets to wrap on the roof of damaged hoses seven days after the Cyclone and Rs 2000 + a bag having 50 kgs of Rice after 10 days.

The problem here is despite the threat of devastation of Cyclonic storm Fani, we didn’t move to the nearby Cyclone Shelter as we feel insecure there because of the age old conflict between them and us owing to the encroachment of Chilika Land and fishing Zone demarcated for us”, said Ali Karan, a women of the village.  

Karan further added that it is the discrimination all the way, we are not allowed to go to the nearest market even students have been discriminated because we belong to lower caste and fishermen community. Government and politicians have never taken these issues seriously. 

Karan is among 1.75 lakh large fishing community whose regular livelihoods’ depend on Chilika, living adjacent in lake area spreads over 146 villages touching three prominent districts Ganjam, Puri and Khurdha. These districts are among the affected districts.

When asked about the means of restoration of livelihoods of Chilika dependent  fisher people Harihar Behera , Community leader and President of Primary Fishermen Cooperative with 168 active fishermen members said that 35 fishing villages  in almost  27 primary fishermen cooperative societies across Eastern Chilika have been affected by Fani. To get them back to their normal livelihoods government should announce an Interim Assistance for each societies and members otherwise they will migrate to other states in search of job.

“It’s been a double-whammy for all of us because of siltation and weed deposits, we were unable to go to deep Chilika, and whatever were the catches non fishermen have already encroached our demarcated land than the recent Cyclonic storm snatched our livelihoods”, quipped Raj Kishore Behera a villager.

Of late, Government of Odisha has announced compensation package which according to Fishing Community is grossly inadequate. As per the government announcements financial assistance of  @50%  of  Rs 80.000 for a new FRP boat  on replacement  basis  and @50% of Rs 20,000 for net will be provided for fully and partially damaged boats and nets  ( 6,000 boats & 3,000 nets to the affected marine and Chilika fishermen. Similarly packages have also been announced for Inland Fishermen and assistance for freshwater and brackish water fish farming. Over a million SHG members /households will be enrolled under Aam Admi Bima Yojan in the affected areas.

While Government Officials  have assured that  they have ensured that Chilika and Marine Fishermen like any Cyclone victims will get compensation as enlisted in Odisha Relief Code besides these Chief Minister has already announced the compensation packages, it all depend how best and early they are enumerating the losses.

By Sudarshan Chhotoray

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