INDIA Cyclone Phailin Stories of Resilience

By Akanksha Nigam, CARE India

Because of early evacuation and other preventative measures, cyclone Phailin has spared millions of lives on the coast of Eastern India. But its severe storms and rainfalls did wreak havoc in the lives of many. These are the stories of Shashi Naik, Lilu Behera and the village of Subholaya in Orissa:

Shashi Naik has spent most of her life in the BNT Colony village of Ganjam district in Orissa. This frail woman in her 70’s has already seen her share of loss before Phailin struck. Her husband passed away years ago, leaving her to look after three sons. While one of her sons died several years ago, the second one ran away from home and the third one left to work in Chennai, where he lives with his family.

Alone in her twilight years, Shashi lived alone in an asbestos and thatched roof hut. But on the fateful night of October 12, that too was taken from her. Tropical storm Phailin destroyed her house and all her belongings. Now with just one set of clothes and no money, Shashi has moved in with her next door neighbour. Shashi used to earn a living by doing odd-jobs for women around her village but post-Phailin, there is no work and she is dependent on government ration for food and the goodwill of her neighbours. Though her son was informed, he had not arrived there by the time CARE’s emergency team visited her village. Ganjam is one of the worst-Phailin affected districts in the state.

School is not to be missed!
Lilu Behera and her daughter Akanksha Priyadarshini are a symbol of resilience. Barely 40-year-old, Lilu lost her husband, a college lecturer, to illness. Since then, this single mother, a graduate herself, has been bringing up her daughter on her own. Her daughter, 15-year-old Akanksha Priyadarshini is a class 9 student.

All their life the duo has called Subholaya village their home. With no other possession, the house was all that Lilu had but last week’s cyclone destroyed that, too. The roof of their one-room house cracked and began leaking. A day later, part of it came crashing down, forcing the mother-daughter duo to rent a room in their village. A temporary lock has been placed to keep her belongings from getting blown away. Lilu doesn’t work and depends on her brother Satish Naik, who is also the village school teacher, for support. Satish has his own family and the Phailin has made it tough to support both the families.

Though she has lost almost everything, Lilu doesn’t complain. “It was unfortunate but then I have been unfortunate for a while so it’s ok. My daughter is safe. I am hoping I will somehow be able to fix the roof of my house and will be able to give up rented place. That home is the only possession I have of my husband,” she says. Despite the personal misfortune, Lilu has ensured that Akanksha’s education does not suffer. After a two-day break, Akanksha went back to school without missing a day.

A village picks itself up again
A fairly big village, Subholaya was living a pretty prosperous life till October 12, 2013. Majority of the village had had a steady source of income through cashew nut crop and coconut trees, the others earn a living through paddy cultivation. Doing well, the villagers had put the nightmare of the 1999 cyclone behind them. But 14 years later it revisited the area.

“A cashew nut plant takes 15-20 years to grow before it bears fruit. The same goes for coconut trees. The 1999 cyclone had destroyed standing crop then and we replanted these trees”, explains Kedarnath Swain, the village head. “Now, when it had started bearing fruit, Phailin has completely wiped it out. We have been set 20 years back. The loss is irreparable. Though we can recover the paddy crop next year, it is lost for this year.” Saline sea water entered the paddy fields, ruining the standing crop there. “We managed to save every single life in this village but without a source of income, what’s the point? We no longer have the will or the energy left to replant the cashew crop or coconuts. What if another cyclone hits us? We’ll just be setting ourselves for disappointment. We have to look for another source of income,” he adds.

As of now the village is dependent on state government aid for food and water. With no electricity in the entire state, and no hope of it getting restored before a month, the village has lost its only source of potable water - a boring pump-run by electricity. They are now getting water from an open well. “The impact is yet to sink in. We are focusing on immediate relief right now but once this is done, it will be difficult to rebuild a life here,” Swain adds.

Similar stories were found across different blocks in the district. Ganjam is also home to a special flower called “kewada” whose scent and essence is used in delicacies/perfumes. A litre of kewada oil costs upward of Rs 2.5 lakh in India. One kewada flower sells for Rs 6 in these areas, which have huge orchards of this tree. But Phailin destroyed 90% of the kewada crop.

CARE India’s emergency team is on the ground assessing the needs and will provide emergency relief items such as jerry cans, tarpaulins, hygiene kits and solar lamps. CARE has provided 5,000 children with biscuits and will distribute water purification systems in 100 villages. CARE India will support recovery with shelter and livelihood support.

Read our press release about cyclone Phailin