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






Anonymous

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Japanese Respond to Disaster With Quiet Determination

Awander Andrew Wander, Save the Children Media Manager

Tokyo, Japan

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The aftershocks come so often in Tokyo that no-one at Save the Children's office pays them much attention anymore. They usually start with an alarm on the television, giving a few seconds warning before the floor begins to judder, sometimes building in strength, sometimes fading away to stillness. It feels a bit like being on a boat, only on the fourth floor of an office block in the middle of a city.

If it's a particularly strong tremor, there might be some nervous smiles exchanged- we all know that another powerful quake remains a very real possibility. But there is urgent work to be done, and the atmosphere of quiet focus returns as soon as the ground stills beneath our feet.

It's the same with concerns over the nuclear reactor to the north of here. We all know there is a chance that the situation will deteriorate and radiation levels will rise. There's scant reassurance to be drawn from the apocalyptic headlines in the international media, and the team are working with one eye on the latest radiation readings announced on the rolling news coverage.

But short of making contingency plans, there's not much we can do about it. For now, levels of radiation are safe in the places we're working, and unless they rise, there is no reason for us to change what we're doing. In the meantime, a lot is getting done. As part of a team of international staff here in Tokyo, I'm watching the quiet determination of the dozens of Japanese staff members turn into results in the field.

Since the quake struck on Friday, Save the Children has made serious progress in our response. Our first child friendly space opened in Sendai on Wednesday, and the team there are looking to scale up their operations as soon as possible.

More spaces should be opening in evacuation centres across the affected area in the next few days, making a big difference to some of the 100,000 children caught up in this emergency.

That couldn't happen without our staff in Tokyo working around the clock to support our teams in the field, purchasing supplies, planning logistics, producing communications material and working with the media. The challenge is enormous, but the people here are meeting it.

We knew as soon as we saw the pictures coming out of Japan last Friday that this would not be simple. Events over the past few days have proven us right. But there is no doubt we are making progress, despite the constant growls of the earth and the ever-present spectre of the radiation.

There is a sense that our Japanese staff are drawing inspiration from each other's commitment, and in so doing, are helping their country take the first tentative steps towards recovery from one of the greatest disasters in its long, proud history.

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Ambitious Goals Six Months After Pakistan’s Devastating Floods

Alex gray

Alex Grey, Deputy Team Leader, Save the Children – Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan

Friday, January 28, 2011



Six months after the severe floods devastated the whole of Pakistan from the north to the south, an area greater that Great Britain, the crisis for Pakistan’s children is far from over. Cases of disease and malnutrition are increasing; millions are without adequate clothing and shelter during the freezing cold winter nights and in the worst-hit region, the southern province of Sindh, large areas still remain underwater. Many farmers will not be able to plant winter crops, meaning their livelihoods and access to food in the coming months and years is severely affected. Government officials say some of the worst-affected areas could take up to six months to dryout.

I recently arrived in Pakistan to take over as the deputy team leader for Save the Children’s flood emergency response. I decided to take the role after visiting in October, almost three months on from the floods, when I saw what a massive crisis this was (something that did not come across in the global media the same way that the Haiti earthquake crisis had earlier in the year). I had recently returned from Haiti, which was hit by the astonishingly devastating earthquake in January earlier that year, and I had not expected to land in Pakistan and see a disaster on the scale of which I did. After spending two weeks with the extremely hard working and dedicated team here in Pakistan who launched and were in the middle of a massive (and somewhat successful from Save the Children’s part) response, and after being confronted with such a massive crisis on the ground and seeing the dire need here in Pakistan, I knew I wanted to come back and work here.

Having just arrived into my new role, and having went into the field and spent two weeks in Punjab and in Sindh, the worst hit by the floods, I realize there is still a massive amount to do to restore the lives of the flood affected communities, and I worry that things will not improve in Pakistan for a very long time. I say this, because I have sat and chatted with children in our temporary learning centres and child friendly spaces (huge tents that we constructed to replace damaged schools where kids come together, learn and play in a safe environment) and heard from them how, that even when the school building was there before the floods, they had not attended school in two years because the government-paid teachers had not come to teach them. If this was the case before the floods, I fear what the future will look like for these children. That’s why Save the Children has ambitious aims.

During my first two weeks in the field, I spent a lot of time in flood affected communities with children and parents hearing their stories about what happened during the floods, in the immediate aftermath and listening to and observing their needs now, 6 months on. One of the most pressing and immediate needs that children and parents alike conveyed to me time and again was still shelter, warm clothing and blankets. It’s warm and sunny in the days, but bitterly cold in the evenings – I have experienced it myself but nothing compared to what the flood affected communities here have to endure. The majority of children (and parents) I spent time with have one set of clothes, thin as they were wearing them in the summer, and the rest of their belongings (clothes, blankets, furniture) were washed away in the floods, often along with their houses. Some are now living in tents, some are building back mud houses themselves, which will more than likely only be washed away in any future floods, some are building temporary shelters (with the help of Save the Children and other actors), but some are still living under tarpaulins without blankets and warm clothing. Save the Children has been providing shelter,blankets and winter clothing and is still distributing these life-saving relief items but it is still not enough despite the massive scale and number of beneficiaries we have reached.

Another major concern is with health and nutrition. I visited a stabilization centre run by Save the Children in Shikarpur in Sindh, where severely malnourished children were referred to by our mobile and static health and nutrition teams in the field. I met with four mothers and their severely malnourished children and was moved to tears to see a young boy almost 2-years-old who was so malnourished that he looked only 5-months-old. Another boy could not stop crying, but no sound was coming from him because he was so malnourished that he didn’t have the energy to make a sound. I could see the pain in his eyes and in his face, and then I spoke to the mothers of these poor children, who were largely malnourished themselves, and heard their stories and of the pain that they felt because they did not have the means provide food and nourishment for their own children.

I thought of what that must feel like for a parent, to not be able to provide for yourself and for your children, and the indignity of it. Again, I felt my eyes welling up. The positive thing about the experience is that all these children who I spent time with were going to live because of the intervention of Save the Children and our wonderful staff who go out to the communities and mobilize them and work hand-in-hand to identify and address their immediate needs. In addition, the mothers’ details were taken and our livelihoods program will ensure that they will receive a cash grant which will hopefully see that their family do not go short of food and survive until the worst of this crisis is over. That day spent in the hospital with the malnourished children, their mothers and our dedicated staff of doctors made me realize how important it is for the government, donors and international community to keep responding as we move into the“recovery phase”, and we are all working hard and hoping that we can continue to build back better these communities in the months and years ahead.

As we look forward at our recovery strategy I am asking myself what we can do to improve the lives of children in Pakistan in the future. It’s what everyone is talking about 6 months on from the floods. However my first impressions and observations after spending two weeks in the field is that it’s hard, even impossible, especially for the flood affected communities in Pakistan, to think about or focus on the future when there is still so many basic immediate needs that have yet to be met.

We have had a great response so far and I am so proud of the 2,000 amazing and dedicated staff here working 7 days a week who have been distributing relief items, providing shelter and protection and safe spaces for children ensuring their health needs are met and that their education continues.The work here is far from done and it will take a very long time for Pakistan to recover, but when I visit a hospital and speak to a mother whose young boy’s life has been saved due to our good work, I am inspired, thankful and hopeful for the future of the children whose lives were (and are) at risk after the floods six months ago.

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