The rarest-of-the-rare summer Cyclone Fani has left people of Odisha in severe distress and has rendered millions, jobless. Fani made landfall in Puri and has turned coastal Odisha into what looks like a war-ravaged zone. One of the most devastating storms in India’s and Odisha’s history, Fani dealt the coast a catastrophic blow with almost 64 fatalities.
Over a million trees, hundreds of miles of power lines, and innumerable homes and schools have completely been destroyed. The Odisha government has assessed the extent of damages to be tentatively around Rs 12,000 crore, in a preliminary report to a visiting inter-ministerial team.
The state’s energy department bore the brunt of Rs 1,159 core while the losses in the Panchayati Raj and the Drinking Water departments stand at Rs 587 crore. Poultry casualties have hit 34.52 lakh, and more than 53 lakh birds have been affected. Meanwhile, the costs from crop damage have been pegged at Rs 150 crore.
Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has further requested the centre for the granting of a special category state (SCS) status to Odisha. Post the cyclone, the government’s numero uno task has been to restore normalcy in the affected areas.
While Bhubaneswar has successfully restored electricity and water in all the urban areas, Puri still has a long way to go. As Fani’s first victim, winds more than 230 kmph pummelled the infrastructure, uprooted trees which had been standing tall for a 100 years and whipped tin roofs from the shanties, taking 39 lives and leaving the rest in uncertainty about the way forward in life.
Nayakpatna Crafts village resident Bhagaban Subudhi, a woodcarving artist who received a Kamala Award for Contribution to Craft and the UNESCO Award for Excellence in Handicrafts in 2008, has been stripped off his roof and livelihood post the cyclone.
He describes his situation and says:
“My workshop has been destroyed completely just like every artist’s in the village. The well water has turned brackish due to contamination and we have been surviving on coconut water. There is no electricity and no tourist and our future looks uncertain as of now. We are surviving on chura (flattened rice) and rice for now given by the government as part of the relief.”
He’s not alone. Just a kilometre away, Raghurajpur – another heritage crafts village, too, has been destroyed. Kasturba industrial co-operative society which is a manufacturer of handicrafts goods at Madhipur, near Puri, has lost nearly 6 lakh worth of material.
Odisha’s tourism industry comes to a halt
Meanwhile, Puri’s beachfront has been wiped off bringing the tourism industry to a standstill with a per day loss of Rs 2 crore. Even though the full damage is yet to be determined and has been deemed incalculable in the short-term, it is clear that travel brands will suffer from a quite dramatic fallout this year – especially smaller tour operators and local, family-run businesses that depend on tourist traffic – despite a tourism advisory issued by Odisha Tourism that says that Puri will be open to tourists post the first week of June. Hoteliers want the same and with the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra approaching in July, they have begun the restoration work at war-footing.
Rebuilding the tourism industry in the hardest-hit areas is just one of the massive challenges which the Odisha Government faces. The immediate priority for them is to restore power and ensure relief in Puri. A cash amount of Rs 2000 has been given to 94.62% of families affected in Puri, Khordha, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Kendrapada and BMC while 93.36% of them have received 50 kg rice as per the latest report by Special Relief Commissioner, Odisha.
Balwant Singh, the young IAS officer who has been given charge of Puri District to lead the restoration and relief work said:
“We are trying our best to reach out to every person and ensure safe drinking water and food for everyone. Around 33,924 families ( 96.27%) have received cash components while 3,41,387 families (96.69%) have received rice. DG sets have been supplied to all blocks and water analysis has begun as well. We have distributed 10,000 solar lanterns in Satpada alone and 12,000 will be distributed in Bramhagiri. Cash-on-wheels (19 in number) are doing the rounds and many banks have opened up their branches.
Panchayati Raj has begun the verification process for allocation of Pakka houses. We have started free distribution of sanitary pads and kerosene as well. Furthermore, the Department of Health and Family Welfare has undertaken a number of post-cyclone measures such as ensuring health services through Medical Relief Centres, disinfection of village water sources, distribution of halogen tablets to households for safe drinking water and steps for preventing diarrheal and any outbreaks of other diseases.”
Even though the Lord Jagannath Temple is now electrified and the preparations for the Rath Yatra are in full swing in Puri, a majority of Puri still remains in darkness after 18 days of the cyclone.
Sanjay Singh, Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Odisha on the electricity status in Puri said: “There has been a colossal loss to power infrastructure at 220 kv, 132 kv and below. Many of these are in areas difficult to reach. Nevertheless, restoration work is going on at war footing and the government’s focus is to restore normalcy at the earliest.”
The state government has further announced an additional Rs 1,000 as gratuitous relief to each eligible family in the area.
Krishnakumar Malik, resident of Gopinathpur in Puri and beneficiary of the ration said:
“It’s heartbreaking to see the city, which is the land of Lord Jagannath, in this condition. My house is intact but with no work, it’s hard to fend for the family. The kind of damage which has taken place, the city will surely take some time to recover. But I am glad that food relief is appropriately being given out. I just hope electricity is restored as soon as possible.”
The city has lost 90% of its tree cover and workers from NDRF, Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF), Odisha Fire Service, Odisha Works Department, Puri Municipal Corporation and other government organisations are working in the scorching heat to fix electricity. Sadly, some citizens are running out of patience and are questioning the administration’s unrelenting work. This results in roadblocks and incidents of relief food theft are also being reported.
Economic disruption after Fani
Life in the fishing village of Pentakota has completely been disrupted. Many are now jobless and are facing other economic setbacks, especially because the village and the town, both heavily dependent on the fishing industry and farming, have been upended because of the storm.
Laxmi Chodapalli, resident of Pentakota said:
“Our village and jobs have been damaged. Till the electricity is restored, we can’t go fishing as there is no ice to store our catch. It’s tough times for us and I hope the government helps us more.”
NGO’s too have swung into action and are providing an extra hand to the government and are in proper coordination to avoid any duplicity.
Sruti Mohapatra, who runs an NGO called Swabhiman is urging people to volunteer:
“The entire Swabhiman team has been actively involved in relief work. We started on the 3rd itself by providing shelter to 40 dwellers from a nearby slum. My eighty-year-old mother, our oldest volunteer, cooked them hot food. From the 4th, we started field visits and rapid assessments.
We have surveyed 45 slum areas in Bhubaneswar, several villages of Mendhasal, Olatpur, Pipili and yesterday, the team was in Puri city. We are continuously providing food and medicine. Human lives have been saved but how will they survive, return to normalcy and get a livelihood, are the big, grim, questions.”
Even the best of efforts will still take time to make the administration reach the last person in the line. Therefore, the misery will have to be borne and needs help from all. Community help and also monetary assistance from corporations is the need of the hour.
Taruka Srivastav is currently a media consultant, a former Asian Games Player and a British Council GREAT Scholar.