By Sandeep Sahu
KENDRAPADA, 22 September, 2011 – Were it not for his strong swimming skills, Akuli Nayak would not have been alive today. He also would not have been able to save his family. As his village was converted into a swirling river following multiple breaches in the Luna river, the 65-year-old farmer from Mangarajpur village in Orissa, his wife and two daughters swam across the surging waters to reach the concrete house of a fellow villager.
After their mud house caved in due to floods, Akuli and his family stayed on a neighbour’s verandah for more than a week. They lost everything that they had– their house, all their personal belongings and the paddy crop on the small piece of land.
For Akuli, the most pressing thought in his mind was to shift from their kind host’s verandah. Akuli’s family was sharing space with twelve other families who were receiving shelter in the house.
“How long can one continue to stay in somebody’s house? Even though they have not uttered a word, it is obvious that they are facing a lot of problems due to us crowding his house,” says Akuli.
Akuli managed to survive the floods but he will have to rebuild his life from scratch. Thirty eight people have died in the floods that wreaked havoc in 19 out of the 30 districts in the state in the second week of September. The floods have affected three million people and have also taken a heavy toll on livestock and damaged crops and houses.
Of the 4,317 villages affected by the devastating floods, 197 villages, including Mangarajpur continue to be marooned even 10 days after the disaster struck. Reaching relief material to the marooned villages has proved to be difficult.
UNICEF supplements efforts of Government
The challenge of reaching the marooned villages has not deterred the state government and development partners, including UNICEF, from bringing much needed humanitarian assistance to the flood affected people.
The Government of Orissa has been quick in its emergency response and has evacuated thousands of people from the affected areas and opened relief centers, free kitchens and provided dry food and drinking water pouches to the people and rushed medical teams to all affected areas.
UNICEF is supplementing the effort of the state Government by deploying relief supplies to most affected areas. These seupplies were pre-positioned as part of UNICEF-Government of Orrisa emergency preparedness mechanism.
Working in tandem with other members of the Inter Agency Group (IAG) – that comprises all UN agencies and international NGOs in the state – UNICEF has rushed post-disaster relief materials like tarpaulin sheets, mosquito nets and hygiene kits to the worst affected areas.
The water level of many rivers has now subsided to below the danger mark and the flood situation has improved in most districts in the past few days. Yet several pockets of villages like Mangarajpur continue to be marooned and are difficult to reach. The relief supply team to Mangarajpur waded nearly four kilometers through knee-deep water, only to be greeted by darkness due to shutdown of electricity. The desperation of the village inhabitants was palpable when the team distributed supplies that night.
The Road Ahead
With the flood waters subsiding, addressing post-flood health and sanitation issues is fast becoming a priority. Acting upon a request from the State Government, UNICEF has provided orientation to volunteers who are reaching out to the post-flood areas with key messages on preventive health, hygiene and sanitation, both at the household and community levels. IEC materials developed for use during floods are also being distributed in the affected areas.
Rapid assessments conducted by UNICEF underline the need for safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and hygiene promotion to safeguard against the possible water borne diseases.
While the Government of Orrisa, UNICEF and other partners continue to press on with flood relief and post-flood operations, the focus is now shifting to the damage assessment and restoration.
In the midst of all of this, the real difference that humanitarian assistance is making to the lives of those affected is exemplified by the words of Akuli. He says quietly, holding on to the UNICEF tarpaulin sheet that he has just received. “You could not have given me anything more desperately needed than this. I now have my own temporary shelter and can vacate the house of my kind benefactor.”
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