Cyclone Phailin was the fiercest storm to hit India in 14 years, but thanks to a mass evacuation programme overseen by the army and volunteers, the number of casualties remains mercifully low. With warnings issued five days before the storm was due to hit and whole communities organised into shelters, officials are relieved that the number of deaths has been minimised. (In contrast, around 10,000 Indians died when Cyclone Orissa hit the country in 1999.)
However, aid agencies are beginning to assess the damage left by Cyclone Phailin and are warning that many families are likely to need urgent assistance when they return home. The Indian Red Cross (IRC) estimates that more than 235,000 mud-and-thatch houses may have been destroyed in one district alone. The aid agency is also concerned about the health and sanitation needs of nearly a million people, since the storm is likely to have contaminated water supplies. Speaking to Reuters, a spokesperson for the IRC said that sanitation issues were likely to “crop up, with the spread of diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery, especially amongst young children”.
Food insecurity is likely
In the Ganjam district, many crops look to have been destroyed by the cyclone. One farmer of paddy rice told a Reuters reporter that his farmland had been inundated and he didn’t expect a single crop to grow. Livestock have also been killed and fishermen have lost boats and equipment. The scale of the disaster is therefore likely to affect the food security of thousands of families in the region.
International charities such as the IRC are already earmarking funds for aid relief to affected areas, which will initially go to providing shelter, safe drinking water and other emergency supplies. Agencies expect to be active in helping communities with emergency assistance for at least six months, but recognise that longer-term support to rebuild livelihoods is also going to be required.
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