Cyclone leaves destruction and homelessness in India

By Oxfam America

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NEW DELHI - Oxfam India will provide water, sanitation and shelter to initially 60,000 people affected by Cyclone Phailin. The storm, one of the country's biggest natural disasters in years, left India on Sunday leaving almost 9 million people affected. 

Winds of up to 200kmh destroyed 300,000 hectares of crops and damaged 200,000 houses, some beyond repair. Phailin will cost India upwards of $389 million. 

However, perhaps the most staggering statistic was that just 23 people were reported killed. In the same area in 1999 a cyclone killed more than 10,000 people. This time authorities moved nearly a million people into temporary shelters in schools and government buildings. 

Oxfam India Humanitarian Programme Manager Zubin Zaman said "many lives were undoubtedly saved because of quick action by the governments of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. They used cyclone early warning systems effectively and there was excellent coordination between agencies to get everybody out to safety in time." 

"However, hundreds of thousands of people are now displaced and need safe water and sanitation. Some need emergency shelter. It is important that local administrators continue to supply food over a sustained period of time to meet people's needs." 

Oxfam India is also distributing chlorine tablets that people can use to purify water, and plans to provide hygiene kits and emergency shelter. Oxfam India will focus on the Chattarpur and Ganjam blocks in Ganjam and Puri districts. Oxfam India plans to reach initially 60,000 affected people with the help of local partners, Unites Artists Association and Solar. 

Oxfam's Humanitarian Director Carsten Voelz said the Indian state deserved plaudits for speedy pre-emptive action. "Moving a million people into safety is a staggering achievement, testament to good planning and communications," he said.  "These kinds of technical improvements are important, especially as climate change brings more and worse storms in the future. But the humanitarian community also needs to look deeper into why poor people are always the most vulnerable, and we need to keep improving our work based upon those answers". 

Voelz said that Oxfam's humanitarian programme work around the world is contributing to improving people's resilience by tackling the issues that make them more susceptible to crises in the first place. 

"Kudos to India for having learnt lessons from 1999 and saving so many lives this time with quick and decisive action," he said. "However the only way that all countries are going to fundamentally reduce the risk facing poor people is by tackling inequality and poor services and lack of social protection. The only way to stop poor people from being so vulnerable to crises is to stop them from being so poor."