India: A Peaceful Daybreak after a Night of Chaos in the Eye of the Cyclonic Storm


Devendra Tak

Puri, Odisha, India

October 14, 2013


I heaved a huge sigh of relief this morning (13 October) as
the number of fatalities in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin remained at a low
number of 14. The low death toll from this disaster proves that preparedness
saves lives, even in the strongest storms. Over 800,000 people were evacuated
prior to the storm’s landfall, some even moved forcibly from their homes into
cyclone shelters that ensured their safety from the strong winds, heavy rain
and storm surge.


Santoshi reaches to the camera at her home destroyed by cyclone Phailin in Odhisa, India. 
Photo Credit: Prasanth Vishwanathan/Save the Children

However, packing winds of over 200km/h, the destruction left
behind by the category five storm will still take months to clear and repair.
Save the Children staff arrived at the disaster area a day before the cyclone
was scheduled to make landfall, on high alert to respond to any humanitarian
needs. Up in one of the tallest buildings in Puri, I had a bird’s eye view of
the destruction – trees uprooted, telephone posts and electrical lines down and
mud houses collapsed the coastline. Late at night, we witnessed the storm
relentlessly roll past across the street, which was visible through our windows
thanks to the hotel lights, which ran on a generator even as the township of
Puri (on the Odisha coastline) had had its power supply completely shut out. In
the distance, I could even see a lighthouse, whose lights went on and off
during the passing over of the cyclone. The screeching and howling sounds of
the wind took over all our senses, with occasional flashes of swathes of water
swirling in the water as they were swept on from the sea by the storm.

As soon as the storm passed us, Save the Children’s team
launched into action. Our team began assessing the needs and damage in the
surrounding areas, along with local partners and government counterparts. A
team of three colleagues headed for Gopalpur, which was where the cyclone had
made its landfall and the maximum damage was expected to be. With the wind and
rains slowing, families too began emerging from the cyclone shelters and
children resumed playing on the streets knowing that almost everyone survived
the storm. There was a huge sense of relief in the expressions of everyone, and
not just me.


Tattamma looks on with her 45 days old son Jagannath outside her home which was completly destroyed by cyclone Phailin. 
Photo Credit: Prasanth Vishwanathan/Save the Children

From initial assessments and reports, communications lines
and power remain down in the worst-affected areas, with roads blocked by fallen
trees and damage to more than 200,000 homes. Large swathes of farm land have
also been affected, destroying much of the crops. This could have a huge impact
of communities, who depend largely on agriculture for survival.

In the coming days, along with other NGO partners we will
identify the needs that have arisen from the worst-affected children to regain
normalcy in their lives. We know that in a situation like this, we need to
ensure that children feel safe with a roof over their heads, a blanket to keep
them warm, hot food and clothes. Having gone through a big storm like this,
they could be afraid of heavy rain or strong winds that are predicted to
continue over the next few days. Working closely with the local government and
other aid agencies, Save the Children will ensure that children caught up in
the disaster are protected, with food, water, shelter and a safe space to play.

Kudos once again to the government, the media, the NGOs and
the people at large, who have acted as one to ensure that countless human lives
have been saved from the wrath of this cyclone.



 Donate to help the children affected by Cyclone Phailin

India Floods: A Family on the Run

Anonymous man

Devendra Singh, Save the Children India

Vijaynagar, India

July 1, 2013

Forced separation of
families has taken place in areas where relief has been scarce.

In the village of
Vijaynagar in the Agastyamuni stretch in Rudraprayag district, along the river
Mandakini, I met with the survivors of the havoc that descended in Uttarakhand.
Many of them are finding their way from the upper reaches of the mountains and
the secluded villages and are making their way to safer areas, where their
day-to-day needs can be taken care of and where they can access the aid that
has not been able to reach them.

India_floods_a_family_on_the_runDhirendra Lal, 42, is
a father who has hitchhiked for about 12 miles from a village called
Chandrapuri with his son and two daughters. His wife has stayed back in the
village with an infant daughter. He was not at home when the disaster struck
since he lives and works in Sonprayag in a hotel. When it became evident that
there was a disaster, he feared the worst and he quickly made his way back to
his village where his family lived as the heavy rains continued to pelt down. A
bridge had been washed away so his trek was longer and more arduous than ever
before. His wife had managed to rescue their four children, as well as their
cow. He is now on his way to Gunou village, which is about 6 miles away to
leave his children with his in-laws who live there.

How has the trauma
affected his family and the children? “The children scream at night,” Lal says. 
I ask Ankita, the elder of the two daughters, how she reacted to the floods. “I
ran and ran,” she replies in a murmur, “and continued running. It felt as if
the water was chasing me forever.” I ask Ankush what he needs most now. “A
home,” he replies, “somewhere where I can be safe from floods and stay with my

Two of Lal’s daughters
are in classes 7th and 5th and his son is in 2nd
class. What about their schooling?  When will they resume their studies?
“I don’t know,” he says. “We have lost everything we had – my priority is to
find a way to rebuild our lives.” It will be many months before his three
children are able to go back to school, he fears.


Two children stand next to their washed-away home. Their family received relief supplies at Rudraprayag. Photo by Save the Children.

Finally, I ask Lal
about the relief that he has received. “Nothing,” he replies. “Nobody has even
come to meet us as yet. We have little to eat and that’s why I am dropping
three of my children at our relative’s house. When I go back home, I will
reconstruct my home. Hopefully there will still be work for me, since now there
are no pilgrims coming to stay in hotels.”

We inform him about a
relief camp that is providing food and other essential items in neighboring
Silli village and he says that he will surely halt there on his way back —
though he does not know how he can carry heavy provisions through the mountains
to where his home was.

The road to his
village will take months to repair but some relief material is now being
carried to such cut-off but relatively close villages on ponies now. The only
fear is that with much of the relief supplies having been hurriedly dumped in
easier to access areas, will relief continue to come, especially when the media
attention dies out in the coming weeks? 

How you can help

Please donate now to the India Floods Children in Crisis Fund to support Save the Children's responses to ongoing and urgent needs as a result of the disaster.

It’s all about where you were born…..and to whom!

This past week and a half was a busy one—I found myself in Washington, DC; Delhi, India; and Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition to spending lots of hours on planes and

sleeping in airports, these vastly different places drove home for me the immense divide between kids’ lives in countries around the world. These differences are rooted in the rate of child survival and the striking disparity in their opportunity for a productive and happy life.


In 2010, nearly two million Indian children never had a chance. They died from easily preventable causes before they were five years old—things like pneumonia, prematurity and complications at birth that could have been prevented, and even diarrhea, which claims the lives of tens of thousands of Indian kids every year. This represents the death of 63 kids for every 1,000 born in India in 2010. In contrast, fewer than a thousand children under five died that same year in Denmark, where there are 64,000 annual births—making it one of the highest-ranking countries for child survival. Surprisingly, far more kids died in the US before they made it to 5—32,000 in 2010 or 8 children for every 1,000 born. And we lose most children in the US as babies: 57% of child deaths occur before they are even a month old.


While these statistics are shocking, they realities are even more alarming. A country’s average rates don’t really tell the story of the very poorest children. In poor urban slums, like the one I just visited in India, the rate of child survival is far below the national average. According to WHO data and UNICEF’s recent report, The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World, slum dwellers in India have almost no access to government health services and the rate of child deaths among the poorest urban families is three times higher than the wealthiest urban families—or 85 deaths per every 1,000 births. And here in the United States, it is poor families (and usually black, Hispanic, and Native American ones) who overwhelmingly experience the heartbreak of the death of a child. The lottery of birth is truly that—and for those with bad numbers, it can be a virtual death sentence.


Of course, the statistics only tell part of the story. The real stories are with the moms, dads and children who live in deep poverty around the world. Like the mom I met recently in Mozambique who told me she had lost her first baby because he got an infection that turned into pneumonia and she didn’t have the money to get him to the clinic more than 20 miles away. Or the families I met in Uganda in February that had only one district hospital to serve more than 50,000 people, and where mothers lost babies when they went into labor on the long walk to get there. The 7.6 million children who die every year are mourned by many more millions of mothers and fathers in the poorest communities in all corners of the globe.



But there are stories of real hope, too. For example, the story of that Mozambican mother, now a Save the Children-trained community health worker, who

Making Hunger Obsolete

I traveled this week to India, both for Save the Children visits and to take my daughter Molly (10) and son Patrick (16) along to see a fascinating place they had never been during their school break. After the Taj Mahal and the backwaters of Kerala, we went to see a program in action that showed that, even in the toughest places, children can thrive.

The mobile health clinic arrives in Okhla. © 2012 Save the Children Photo By: Carolyn Miles


We visited the slum area of Okhla, not far from the Save the Children office in Delhi. A mobile health van comes to this dirty, crowded street once a week to deliver two doctors, a nurse, a pharmacist,