Learning to live with floods - the Orissa example

October 1st, 2008 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

Nilpura (Orissa), Oct 1 (IANS) A group of children in an Orissa village are on a new mission. They are going from house to house telling people what to do in case they face a flood - one of the many steps the villagers here have taken this year to minimise the misery the near-annual phenomenon brings with it.The children, all below 15, are members of a club that discusses local issues. They heard about the last flood on the radio and alerted the 800 households in the village so that they could move to a safer place with whatever resources they have including dry food. They travelled on rafts made of banana trunks.

Nilpura is like dozens of villages in Orissa’s coastal district of Balasore, some 300 km from state capital Bhubaneswar. During the last flood this June, most of the houses were submerged.

But the residents say they managed to reduce their suffering as they were well prepared.

About a quarter million people in the region now say they are preparing to live with floods - which they witness almost every year. One measure they are taking - increasing the height of their tube wells. They are stocking up on food as well.

They need to be prepared. Last year, the residents of 25 villages under Bhograi block near the Orissa-West Bengal border faced floods 13 times, usually whenever the river Subarna Rekha flowed above the danger mark.

“This year we witnessed three floods. Of them one was devastating. That hit the region in June. But we are happy that we managed to reduce our misery,” Lambodar Pal, a village elder, told IANS.

Even when there are no floods, one has to walk seven kilometres from the nearest motorable road to reach Nilpura. When it’s flooded, boats are the only means of transport.

As part of preparing for floods, “during a meeting of NGOs called by the Red Cross in 2007, we were told to distribute relief, carry out restoration work and prepare the residents to fight disasters like floods”, Anuradha Mohanty, coordinator of People’s Cultural Centre (PECUC), told IANS.

“We distributed relief and formed disaster reduction teams in every village and prepared them for conducting a series of training last year as well as this year.

“We carried out the work jointly with Save the Children (an international NGO) and with support from Humanitarian Aid of the European Commission,” she said.

“After carrying out relief operations, helping them to build their shelters, providing schoolchildren books, school bags, repairing the schools and houses, we decided to raise the height of the tube wells so that people can get safe drinking water,” Mohanty added.

The NGO increased the height of at least 25 tube wells in the areas by up to five feet and people managed to get drinking water even when their houses were submerged by the floods.

Last year hundreds of victims suffered from diarrhoea. This year the number came down. About 20 cases were reported from some villages but they were immediately controlled.

“We have now decided to increase the height of the tube wells by over 10 feet because flood water was up to 10 feet high,” Mohanty said.

“The most vulnerable during the floods are children and pregnant mothers and I have learnt in a training camp how to treat them if they develop intestinal disorders,” said PECUC volunteer Alaka Dey, 20.

“The preparation is at an initial stage. We need to do a lot of things in the coming days,” said Ranjan Mohanty, secretary of the NGO.

“We will take steps to prepare everybody to win the battle against disaster when we cannot stop it.”

Orissa again witnessed devastating floods this September as the Mahanadi river overflowed, killing about 70 people and affecting four million in the state. More people adopting the methods used in Balasore district may reduce misery in other disaster-prone villages also, Mohanty said.

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