First Person

Cyclone leaves destruction and homelessness in India

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The coastal fishing village of Bada Nolia Nuagam experienced the full force of the cyclone, leaving very little in its path standing. Photo by Sam Spickett / Oxfam India.

A giant cyclone struck the eastern coast of India and took 10,000 lives with it in 1999. On October 12, 2013, a cyclone of comparable strength visited the same area.

The difference this time? Only 23 people were reported to have been killed.

While any loss of life is significant, this contrast represents incredible progress on the part of Indian authorities in disaster response, who moved nearly a million people into temporary shelters in schools and government buildings.

“Our initial assessment on the ground is that many lives were undoubtedly saved because of quick action by the governments of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh,” said Oxfam India Humanitarian Program Manager, Zubin Zaman. “They used effective cyclone early warning systems and excellent coordination between agencies to get everybody out to safety in time.”

With a storm of this scale though, there are still considerable humanitarian needs in the region. With winds up to 125 mph, the storm caused at least USD 380 million worth of damage, destroying over 700,000 acres of crops and damaging 200,000 houses, many beyond repair. Nine million people are affected by this storm and hundreds of thousands are now displaced and in immediate need of safe water and sanitation. Oxfam is distributing chlorine tablets to purify water and plans to send in hygiene kits and emergency shelter, initially reaching 60,000 people with the help of local partners.

Alongside these efforts, Oxfam continues its humanitarian work around the world to help improve people’s resilience by tackling the issues that make them more susceptible to crises in the first place. Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director, Carsten Voelz, emphasized the increasing importance of this work as climate change threatens to bring more and worse storms.

“India deserves credit for having learned from 1999 and for saving so many lives this time with quick decisive action. And Oxfam will be there as ever to help build their lives back better,” said Voelz. “However, the only way that all countries are going to fundamentally reduce risk to poor people is by tackling inequality and poor services and social protection.

“The only way to stop poor people being so utterly vulnerable to crises is to stop them from being poor.”

Help vulnerable communities affected by this storm. Donate to the Cyclone Phailin Relief and Recovery Fund. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+