Odisha continues to face Fani aftermath
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 wall, too, was knocked down by the wind on May 3 when the cyclone Fani made landfall.Updated: Aug 12, 2019 00:28 IST
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. But in Puri, the ground zero of the cyclone, the going has been particularly hard. School buildings were devastated beyond repair. Consequently, thousands of schoolchildren and their teachers across the district are facing difficulties in the teaching-learning process.
“Each day is a struggle,” said 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. Standard 1 students currently sit on the school veranda. 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 wall, too, was knocked down by the wind on May 3 when the cyclone Fani made landfall.
One of the students, 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.
Tata Trusts, Tata Group’s charitable arm, 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.
A total of 5,735 upper primary and high schools in the Puri district were damaged by Fani.
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, 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. Nature has been particularly cruel to the coastal state. The DLNA report pegged 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 because of the damage caused to their schools but also to their livelihoods.
In the Brahmagiri block that bore the brunt of the cyclone, 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 as officials found that the damage to their homes fell short of the criteria set by the district administration.
In Palanka village, Panchanan Palei, a farmer, is worried about repaying a Rs 40,000 loan at 20% annual interest rate that he had taken from a microfinance company 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,” he said. 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.
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.
He said, Rs 66 million 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.