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Super Cyclone in Orissa

Millions of people remained homeless and over 20 thousand dead in the century's worst cyclone that ripped through coastal Orissa. Super-cyclone with winds 260-300 km/hour (hurricane category 5) hit the 90 mile coast of Orissa with a storm surge that created the Bay-of-Bengal water level 30 feet higher than normal. The water rushed violently to submerge the coastal areas including the port city of Paradip and areas within 30 km from the shore. The escaping water was 15 feet deep.

Throughout the day of October 29th and in the complete darkness of the fateful night, the water (the sea water, the rain water and the flood water) rushing with its violent speed and monstrous wind with its devastating force played their most brutal mischief with thousands of helpless people.

There was no kindness, no mercy, no food or drink, nobody to hear your cries and hunger. For many it was the ghost-town experience with the darkened sky roaring above pouring high speed rain water, the violent winds all around and inches and inches of muddy water below. Some closed their eyes forever and some who couldn't close their eyes, now can't see their future.

At least 15 lakh (1.5 million) marooned and 25 lakh (2.5 million) houses have been estimated to be either totally destroyed or damaged in the coastal districts of Orissa. Gamang said ten districts suffered extensive damage with Kendrapara and Jagatsingpur bearing the brunt of the cyclone. A huge sheet of water covered almost entire Kendrapara and Jagatsingpur which were hit by ten-metre high tidal waves whipped by the gale packed with windspeed of 300 km per hour.

As relief efforts get underway in India's cyclone-ravaged Orissa state, a grisly picture is emerging of the storm's death and destruction. While the official death toll has been put at 600, relief and government officials have estimated a much higher casualty figure. A senior army official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that the death toll could be between 10,000 and 20,000 -- a figure that would mark it as the deadliest cyclone ever to hit the storm-prone country since a 1971 cyclone killed 10,000. Relief officials have said the death toll could reach 5,000.

Politicians and journalists touring the devastated state have reported seeing hundreds of bodies burned together in mass cremations throughout the damaged area. One local politician told reporters that he saw hundreds of carcasses floating in the street, and another official in Paradip told the BBC that some 500 people had died there alone. Thousands have lost their homes, livestock and rice fields to the relentless floods. And as officials struggle to bring food and fresh water to the survivors, it is feared that the death toll will continue to escalate.

Millions have been stranded or left homeless in Orissa state. Photo courtesy of the BBC Vast areas of the disaster zone remain inaccessible after one of the most powerful super cyclones ever to strike India roared ashore from the Bay of Bengal Friday, slamming the coast with 160 mph winds and 30-foot tidal waves and washing away the mud homes of millions.
After the severe weather abated Monday afternoon, relief helicopters finally lifted off to bring help to the millions left homeless and stranded by the floods. Helicopters dropped packets of protein-rich food and fresh water but were only able to reach thousands of the estimated 2 million people stranded along the 90-mile stretch of the northeastern coast.

Communication difficulties, continued flooding and looting continue to hamper relief efforts, and officials fear that some people may die before help can arrive. Many already have gone four days without fresh water or food. Some desperate and hungry storm victims are trying to leave town as the main road inland is cleared of fallen trees by the military. Others stand along the highways waiting for packets of rice and water to be dropped from air force helicopters.

Without food or water, officials fear that stranded cyclone victims will die of disease and hunger, adding to an already ghastly death toll. Some already are drinking contaminated water in the flooded streets. Red Cross officials said they are trying hard to get to cyclone shelters where thousands have been without food, fresh water or medicine.

"It will be at least a week before relief will reach all parts of the state. By then many people would have died of hunger and diseases," Anadi Sadhu, a member of parliament from the state, told The Indian Express newspaper. There is also fear of water borne epidemics of cholera and gastro-enteritis.
As the desperation grows, officials are preparing to deal with increased vandalism and lawlessness. Food riots erupted in Bhubaneswar, the state capital of Orissa, which has had electricity, drinking water or food since the storm struck last Friday. Residents looted warehouses and vehicles carrying emergency supplies, the Press Trust of India reported. In the coastal town of Baleshwar, where women have reported being molested and looting is widespread, civil authorities asked the army to help restore order.

A helicopter delivers food and water to cyclone victims. Photo courtesy of the BBC
Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes was mobbed by crowds of desperate residents as his helicopter landed in the devastated port city of Paradip. "The experience in Paradip defies any kind of description. There is utter chaos," Fernandes said. "There is complete breakdown of law and order. Police are inadequate." He said the houses of Paradip Port Trust officials had been ransacked and about 50,000 food aid packets had been looted.

The whole state of Orissa is still without electricity, with many roads blocked with debris, fallen trees and downed power lines. Outside the coastal town of Baleshwar, hundreds of people huddled under plastic sheets along the roadside, waiting for packets of rice and water to be delivered by the army.

In the densely populated area surrounding Baleshwar, at least 14 villages were totally submerged and 15,000 people were taking shelter in one public college building, said Asim Kumar Vaishnav, the senior administrator in the Baleshwar district. As many as 15 million people live in the stricken area and millions of them may be displaced.

"This is the worst flooding in 100 years. I would say it is the worst in India's history," Vaishnav said.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared a national disaster and announced federal assistance of one billion rupees ($23 million). Just two weeks ago another cyclone killed 147 people as it roared in from the bay and hammered the Orissa coast. This time, the coastline states of Orissa and West Bengal are expecting the destruction to be far worse, and critics are accusing the government of responding too slowly to the disaster and conducting the evacuations too late.

Authorities have tried to control looting following the storm. Photo courtesy of the BBC In the wake of the criticism, Vajpayee has stressed that the cyclone must be treated as a "national calamity." India's missile test site at Chandipore has been transformed into an army relief center with missile scientists coordinating aid operations. An infantry division of 10,000 soldiers is on rescue duty and soldiers in motor boats and flat-bottom rafts plied the floodwaters to rescue stranded civilians marooned on patches of high ground or the roofs of their homes. Army cooks have also been involved in the relief effort by preparing fried leavened bread and spicy potatoes for hungry villagers. The army moved in medical teams and engineers who will set up field clinics on Wednesday.
"I believe that the whole country needs to come to the rescue of the people of Orissa," Fernandes said. "If the country immediately does not respond, we are going to have the dimensions of a tragedy ... that cannot be imagined."

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said that a disaster team was mobilizing to assess damage and coordinate international relief efforts, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has already appealed for $2.65 million in immediate aid for the homeless.

Orissa Super Cyclone Emergency Response

After the 29-30 October’99 Super Cyclone of Orissa various UN agencies government and non-government agencies provided relief materials and implemented rehabilitation programs for the state. There was a need to monitor the process, prevent duplication and to identify gaps. Initially, four National United Nations Volunteers (NUNVs) were recruited. As their role became clear the need for more NUNVs came up, and the number was increased to thirteen. The NUNVs are qualified and experienced professional.

The NUNV District Support Officers are placed in the affected districts of Orissa namely Balasore, Bhadark, Cuttack, Ganjam Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Kendrapara, Khurda and Puri. They assist the district administration in monitoring the relief and rehabilitation material by visiting the community, meeting the concerned state governmental officials and reporting to the District Magistrate (DM) and Collector or the assigned state government officer and the UN House on a regular basis.

Two NUNVs are placed at Bhubaneswar, one to coordinate the NGO activity and the other to coordiante the NUNV activities and compile information. In addition to the District Support Officer Balasore has an IT Specialist to assist the district administration in the implementation of information technology project.

The NUNVs interact with the NGOs and the government of Orissa (GOO) to encourage the formation of Block and district level Coordination Committees. These committees meet fortnightly or monthly along with GOO and NUNV to highlight their role and activities in the area. These meetings identify duplication and gaps if any in the region. They are also feed back to the state level coordination committee meeting held in the UN House in Bhubaneswar. The NGO Coordinator interacts with the NGOs and coordinates their activities. Based on the feedback received from the NUNVs, project officers, UN Intersectoral team leader and GOO the NUNV Project Officer updates the UNDMT at Delhi.

They assist the GOO in formulating and implementing project proposals. They are accurate and discrete in information dissemination. Information collected is shared with NGOs and community alike. They have also in certain cases reached faster in disseminating information of GOO programs and messages to concerned authorities in remote locations.

The NUNVs District Support Officers working in Orissa are the UN representatives in the Districts. Each one of them are experienced in the field of monitoring, capacity building and coordinating activities. They are easily accessible by government of Orissa, non-governmental organisations, Community workers and UN staff alike. Their expertise in certain field is well understood by the NGOs and community workers especially who often seek their advice and guidance in various activities.

In times of emergency or urgency the NUNVs support the state in extending their assistance in various government rehabilitation related activities. They have been involved in assisting the district administration in formulating project proposal on rehabilitation of the district.

After the super cyclone local, national and international agencies went to the state to assist the victims of the state. They were active during the relief period and some of them are still active. Some of the NGOs have approached the state government for assistance.

Certain State government agencies have approached them to assist them in verifying facts, as the NUNV report would be independent and unbiased. It enables the District Administration in valuable decision making. In Balasore the District Administration asked the NUNVs to verify facts or claims of NGOs.

Visits of NUNV to the community have enabled in making people aware of the United Nation systems, activities and partnership with the government. The communities often request the NUNVs to share with them information of various developmental programs in the area. The NUNVs have become trusted friends. They ask the NUNVs to assist them in forming groups or committees, in writing minutes, keeping records, procedures to be followed in a committee.

The NUNVs are known for their neutrality. The Khurda NUNV had been asked to be present as a neutral observer in all party meetings before the elections.

It was found out that women did not play an active role in relief and rehabilitation process of the state. The cyclone has more men dead than women there are many women found themselves to be heading the families. Unable to earn a decent livelihood they have become vulnerable. They were keen on helping themselves and the society at large. They wanted to be more than to just wait and watch. They wanted to participate. As the government of India and the UN is keen on gender equality and participation. The NUNVs have assisted along with the GOO and NGOs in the formation of women’s groups. The main objective of these women groups would be to participate in the rehabilitation process of the state.

The cyclone has uprooted 90 million trees in the state. The temperature of the state is feared to go up. In 1998 about 2000 were found dead due to sunstroke. If the temperature of the state increases the state might face another disaster. The NUNVs from the first week of February initiated the process of increasing the awareness on heat wave preparedness. The NUNVs encourage the NGOs to participate in workshops and training programs on heat wave preparedness. The state government has changed the school timings to enable students to be in school in the morning to prevent them from being in school during the peak hot hours of the day.

Ersama block alone accounted for the maximum deaths due to the cyclone. The then District Magistrate and Collector spoke of the difficulties in convincing the people and evacuating them to safer places. The state used all its recourses and power to get people to safer places but not all could survive. Dead bodies were found all around the block. The villagers being in a state of shock and tired after a few attempts gave up finding their missed one. The NUNVs during their field visit go to remote areas, fields and interact with people and come to know of dead bodies found. They immediately report the matter to the District Collector or the Emergency Officer about it with their advice they then report the matter to the concerned NGO working in the area to cremate the bodies.

The UN agencies have found the NUNVs besides monitors or coordinators as also field information collectors. They are often asked by various program officers to assist them in information collection and dissemination.

Some of the work delegated to the NUNVs by the District Collectors / GOO is:

The NUNV in Cuttack has been asked to interact with the NGOs who come to the district office to collect information on NGOs related rehabilitation programs.
The NUNV District Support Officer in Balasore has been asked to coordiante the DLCC on behalf of the District Collector.
The NUNV IT Specialist in Balasore has been asked to assist in the networking of various district and block offices and train the officials in certain computer software packages.
The NUNV in Bhadrak has been given the task to encourage in the NGO activity in the district.
The NUNV in Khurda has been asked by the District Collector to be present in the SLCC meetings and to report to him.
The NUNV in Ganjam initiated the process of formation of District Level Coordination Committee meeting.
The NUNV in Jagatsinghpur has been delegated to participate in Orissa Rural Housing Development Corporation meeting to encourage the participation of NGOs in implementing housing programs.
The NUNV in Erasama block of Jagatsinghpur has been involved in assist the block officials in information dissemination
The NUNV in Jajpur has been involved in assisting the District administration in collecting information milk route and formulating of milk scheme project.
The NUNV in Kendrapara has been asked to be involved in the housing programs of the district along with the government officers.
The NUNV in Puri has been asked to be involved in health surveillance system
Their neutral and unbiased approach has prompted the GOO to report in favour of the NUNVs.

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