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Anger grows over aid delays among Indian cyclone survivors

Source: Fri, 18 Oct 2013 10:29 GMT
Author: Jatindra Dash and Nita Bhalla
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Fishermen stand outside their damaged houses at the cyclone-hit Nalianuagaon village in Ganjam district in the eastern Indian state of Odisha October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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BHUBANESWAR/NEW DELHI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Anger over the slow and patchy delivery of aid is growing amongst survivors of a fierce cyclone that battered India's east coast almost a week ago and the delays have sparked protests and looting in some areas, aid workers said on Friday.

Cyclone Phailin battered the coastline of Odisha state on Saturday, ripping apart tens of thousands of mud-and-thatch homes, inundating large tracts of farmland and disrupting power and telecoms services.

As it moved inland from the Bay of Bengal, incessant rains caused major rivers and tributaries to overflow, submerging more villages and leaving thousands stranded.

Phailin, recorded as the most powerful storm to hit the region in 14 years, disrupted the lives of almost 12 million people and killed at least 43.

"The government has been providing food and clean water and some shelter materials, but there are still places where people have not received anything at all," said John Shumlansky, country director for aid group Catholic Relief Services.

Shumlansky praised the timely action of the authorities who evacuated almost one million people to shelters ahead of the storm, but said the scale of destruction presented challenges for both the government and humanitarian agencies.

Hundreds of cyclone survivors protested over the lack of aid in the worst-hit district of Ganjam on Wednesday, blocking a major highway and causing congestion. Similar demonstrations have been reported in at least two other districts.

Some cyclone survivors have also looted relief supplies from government vehicles and shelters. Police arrested 18 people in Khurda district after a mob looted polythene rolls that were to be used for shelter from a relief truck, officials said.  

Many of those hit by the cyclone are from poor fishing and farming communities and need basic emergency items such as clean water, tarpaulin sheets, medicine, soap, utensils and blankets.

But they also need long-term support to help rebuild their lives after losing their homes and their livelihoods, including crops, cattle, fishing boats and nets.

Most are now living amidst the wreckage of their homes.

"There is a sense of frustration and anger which is always seen in days after a disaster. People are of course grateful to be alive, but are now returning to their homes to find nothing," said Unni Krishnan, head of emergencies at Plan International.

"It is great that so many lives were saved, but we now need to make sure that they are sustained in the days ahead."

RESOURCES STRETCHED

In the aftermath of the storm, rescue and relief teams have cleared roads of thousands of uprooted trees, air dropped dry food rations to flood-hit areas and taken to boats to rescue villagers marooned on the rooftops of their homes.

However, some areas remain inaccessible because water levels are still high or roads are damaged. In other areas, power and telecoms services have not been restored.

Both aid workers and government officials say human resources and relief supplies are stretched.

"Everyone was focusing on the coastal evacuations and relief and recovery along the coast and we weren't prepared for the fresh flooding in other areas as well," said Mangla Mohanty, head of the Indian Red Cross in Odisha.

"As a result, there are big gaps in response in the rural areas."

Mohanty said there was a shortage of emergency relief items such as "churra" – a local staple made from rice – on the local market as people had been bulk buying ahead of the storm, forcing some aid groups to source supplies from outside the state.

Government officials said they hoped to provide everyone with relief by Oct 22, adding that people would also be receiving cash payments to help buy the items they need.

"We will complete the relief operation in another three to four days time. There will be some people who will receive (the relief) today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," said Odisha’s special relief commissioner Pradeep Kumar Mohapatra.

(Additional reporting by Sujoy Dhar in Kolkata)

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