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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

100 days after Cyclone Fani, coastal Odisha still to limp back to normal

About 100 days after cyclone Fani ripped through the Odisha coast killing 64 people and affecting over 16.5 million people in 14 of the state’s 30 districts, people are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2019 17:47 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Puri
In Puri, ground zero of the cyclone thousands of schoolchildren and their teachers are finding it difficult to deal with the post-cyclone scenario as their school buildings have been completely razed or devastated beyond repair.
In Puri, ground zero of the cyclone thousands of schoolchildren and their teachers are finding it difficult to deal with the post-cyclone scenario as their school buildings have been completely razed or devastated beyond repair.(PTI PHOTO.)
         

A slow drizzle began, as children of the Rebana Nuagaon Nodal upper primary school in Odisha’s Puri district inched their way around large puddles of water on the school playground earlier this week.

Before them lay the debris of what used to be asbestos-roofed dining hall and some of the classrooms of the school. They had been razed by cyclone with ferocious wind of more than 200 kilometer per hour on May 3. Behind them, lay the shards of what used to be the headmaster’s room and the teachers’ common room.

About 100 days after cyclone Fani ripped through the Odisha coast killing 64 people and affecting over 16.5 million people in 14 of the state’s 30 districts, people are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But in Puri, the Ground Zero of the cyclone, the going has been particularly hard. School buildings were completely razed or devastated beyond repair. Consequently, thousands of schoolchildren and their teachers across the district are struggling to deal with life after that fateful storm.

“Each day is a struggle”, sighs Sujata Das, headmistress of the Rebana Nuagaon school. “Of nine rooms, we have only four left, so children of two classes are forced to sit together in one of them. Class 1 students sit on the school verandah. And all kids take their midday meals on the open grounds.”

Das and other teachers have to spend entire days in the class rooms, as the cyclone razed their common room too. Then there’s the added danger of children falling into the village pond, located next to the school, since the boundary war, too, was knocked down by the wind.

Families, too, have been affected by the cyclone. School student Puja Pradhan’s house is across the road from the school, but her father is afflicted by cancer and can’t work and the family faces a serious financial crunch. The house is yet to be repaired and rainwater still seeps in.

The Tata group’s NGO, Tata Trusts, and HDFC Bank have pledged their support to rebuild some of the damaged schools in this area. But their efforts may fall short, given the sheer number of buildings that bore the brunt of the cyclone.

In the neighbouring village of Palanka, the nodal upper primary school is waiting for electricity. Four of its 7 classrooms were completely destroyed by the storm. Here, around 260 children jostle for space in 3 rooms, one of which has a permanently leaking roof. School headmaster Laxman Kumar Nayak says that here, too, students of five classes have to make do with two classrooms and the school verandah for their lessons. The picture is not a lot different at the high school in Palanka, whose asbestos roof blew away. But here, the students can consider themselves a little luckier, since they have been using the two rooms of the local multipurpose cyclone shelter as makeshift classrooms.

A total of 5,735 upper primary and high schools in the Puri district were damaged by Fani. When schools reopened on June 21 after the summer vacation, there was a delay in the arrival of new text books and school bags provided by the state government, leading to schools lagging behind on the academic calendar. “We started taking classes only from August 1, since we were entrusted with other programs by the school and mass education department,” says Palanka teacher, Ambuja Pradhan. “But even with extra classes, it will be very difficult to complete even half the syllabus on time.”

Though the Odisha government managed to evacuate more than 15 million people to 9,177 shelters including 879 set up specifically as multipurpose cyclone/flood shelters and earn widespread international praise for efficient disaster management, cyclone Fani impacted Odisha’s economy adversely.

According to the Damage, Loss and Needs Assessment (DLNA) report authored by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and various other agencies and released by Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik earlier this week, the cyclone caused a total loss of Rs 24,176 crore, about 5% of Odisha’s Gross State Domestic Product. According to the report, Odisha needs Rs 29,315 crore to recover the loss to its infrastructure. The DLNA report places the combined economic losses suffered by Odisha from cyclones Phailin(2013), Titli(2018), and Fani(2019) at Rs 40,474 crore.

Even as the state government campaigns for resources to rebuild the state, people in Puri’s villages are suffering not only due to the damage caused to their schools but also to their livelihoods.

In the Brahmagiri block, people say that they received 50 kg of rice, a polythene sheet and Rs 2000 as ex-gratia assistance after the storm. But many are disappointed to see their names struck off from the list of beneficiaries of house damage and reconstruction assistance as officials found that the damage to their homes fell short of the criteria set by the district administration.

In Bauribasta village, housewife Manjulata Barala is unsure about her future, since her small provision shop was destroyed in the cyclone. Barala’s woes have been compounded with the district officials reportedly deleting her name from the list of persons whose homes were damaged by the storm.

“My kutcha house was completely damaged, following which I took a loan and tried to rebuild it. When the officials initially came here, my name was listed for relief. But after I repaired the house somewhat, they struck my name off. I don’t know how to support my family as I have no shop now,” Barala said.

In Palanka village, farmer Panchanan Palei is very worried about repaying Rs 40000 loan with a 20% annual interest rate that he had taken from Ujjivan microfinance a year ago. “The finance company agents spared me for the first one and half months, but now they are hot on my heels asking for repayment. The casuarinas and other trees that I had raised on my land, were all razed by the cyclone.” Palei used to make a tidy sum selling the wood of the casuarina trees. “Now, I work as a daily labourer so that I can pay off the monthly instalments,” he says.

In Goudalunapada village, neighbours Prabhat Bhoi and Benu Bhoi, too, face the same problems. Both of them had to shelter in a school building with their families for about 50 days after the cyclone. When schools opened, they had to return to their villages, only to find their names struck off the list of beneficiaries.

In the same village, young poultry farmer Dambarudhar Pradhan, too, is clueless about his future, as his small broiler farm of 600 chickens were completely destroyed. “I had invested Rs 88,000 in the broiler farm. Nothing remains now. I wasn’t in the village when surveyors came so I didn’t get any compensation. Now, I have neither a livelihood nor any money left,” he said.

However, Puri district collector, Balwant Singh, dismissed the possibility that eligible beneficiaries have been left out. So far, house-building assistance worth Rs 141 crore had been disbursed to 0.25 million out of 0.26 million eligible people, he said. According to Singh, an amount of Rs. 660 crore has also been taken from the chief minister’s Relief Fund and paid out to 11,984 landless persons as ex-gratia payment. “Balance 12000-odd beneficiaries have submitted their objections regarding the extent of damage, which are being inquired by our officials. By 10th August we plan to complete the verification,” he said.

The collector also said that the promised assistance of Rs 95,100 for fully damaged houses, Rs 5,200 for partially damaged and Rs 3,200 for minor damages will be disbursed to affected persons as soon as the Centre releases money from the National Disaster Response Fund, a central fund to meet the expenses for for relief and rehabilitation due to any disaster.