Inhabitants of islands in Sunderbans in West Bengal, India collect what ever remains in their homes, following devastation by cyclone Aila
By Anil Gulati
SUNDERBANS, WEST BENGAL, India, June 8, 2009. Badal Ojha, her two little girls Shivani and Shirali along with seven other members of their joint family are living on a boat, since the Cyclone Aila hit their village Dakshin Surendraganj in Sunderbans Islands, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal on May 25, 2009.
During the cyclone, saline water from the Bay of Bengal gushed into their houses and farmfields. The floor of Badal Ojha’s house is submerged and the mud walls will give in anytime. A ten foot tarpaulin covered boat is the only safe shelter for the family, to save themselves from the rains which continue to lash the islands.
Salvaging whatever food they could from their home the family has managed to survive with the help of dry rations (chira and gur) and jerrycans of drinking water provided by Ramakrishna Mission Lokashiksha Parishad, an NGO working in the area. Though some water has receded, the floods have wrecked the whole village.
Basanti is cooking the only meal of the day beside the ruins of her house. Her husband and other villagers are constructing a shelter by laying bamboo sticks on the ground over which they will tighten tarpaulin. This will shelter them and their two children for some time to come. Water, food and shelter were their first need after the calamity.
"The cyclone will have long term impact,” worries Pinaki Jana, a volunteer with Ramakrishna Mission, visibly worried. “Not only has it brought life to a standstill but it will be some time before livelihoods can be restored. The cyclone has stripped top soil from agricultural lands and saline water in fields will affect cultivation. It may take two or three monsoons before land can be restored,” adds Jana.
“That’s not all. The embankment which used to protect the village from saline water during high tide has given way. Though teams are working to restore these embankments, it will take time to restore them. For the time being, with monsoon and high tides unabated, things will get difficult,” he adds.
“After the relief phase, we will work towards rehabilitation and helping communities with livelihood options,” says Nirmal Patnaik, Programme Coordinator with Ramakrishna Mission. “Though people have lived beside these tributaries for generations, the unprecedented fury of Cyclone Aila has brought a new level of fear,” he adds.
‘UNICEF is concerned about women and children in the affected districts. It has moved additional 230,000 ORS packets and 25,000 water jerry cans for the affected blocks of North and South 24 Parganas to cope with health issues which are likely to come up as the water recedes.
UNICEF alongwith Red-R India has launched a community awareness drive on public health issues. Chemicals for water testing and disinfecting tubewells have been provided to Public Health Engineering Department in the affected districts,’ informs S N Dave, Officer-in-Charge, UNICEF Office for West Bengal.
UNICEF has conducted multi sectoral assessment in most affected blocks of South & North 24 Parganas covering various aspects of child survival, education and protection in the affected areas to determine its further action.