This is an excerpt from Cyclone Fani: Tracking Inclusion of Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities, and Other Marginalized Communities in Disaster Response, a study jointly undertaken by the National Dalit Watch (NCDHR) and Ambedkar Lohia Vichar Manch, Odisha. Read the full report here.
Odisha, a state most susceptible to cyclones and natural disasters, between 1900 and 2011, has experienced floods, severe cyclones, droughts, severe heat waves, and tornadoes. This is an average of 1.3 natural calamities per year, however, since 1965 there has been a marked increase in the frequency of natural or weather-related disasters with the state experiencing nearly two to three disasters almost every year. For instance, the people had barely recovered from the 2018 Cyclone Titli that had battered the state, and cyclone Phailin in 2013, the largest storm to hit Odisha after the Super Cyclone of 1999. Another recurring trend seems to be the inherent unpredictability of the path of these storms, making it harder to pin these temperamental currents down to a specific date and window time, leaving much to the mercy of unexpected and erratic behaviour.
In the context of Cyclone Fani, the state’s show of foresight, and the effective, timely evacuation measures has no doubt saved thousands of lives, yet there are gaps and blind spots in the disaster response programme that neglects the poorest and most marginalised. The evidence collected indicates that the state is far from disaster-ready and that there is a need for constant monitoring of the disaster response programme of the government, non-government organisations, and international agencies, to prioritise the needs of Dalit and Adivasi communities in their disaster response.
The lives and livelihoods of the people, especially those who are most vulnerable to these disasters, are not a resource to be gambled with. The concerned authorities will have to accommodate issues like geography, habitation, context and culture, to design a variegated strategy that addresses and prioritises all vulnerable groups and minorities. The impact of disasters and crises on the socio-economically disadvantaged are compounded by issues like age, class, gender, and caste. Those without pucca houses, those dependent on daily wages, those who do not have equal access to essential services and resources, and unequal access and control of resources, have to be considered in a different bracket for their needs will always be greater. The state of Odisha will build back again, like they have since time immemorial, however, in this time of climate crisis and rapid global heating, it is time to build back smarter and with a stronghold on resilience.
The government has to develop accountability-based mechanisms that ensure that early warning reaches all citizens at the same time. This is because a significant proportion of the marginalized communities depend on government channels to get early warning about disasters.
EVACUATION & RESCUE
Those living in disaster-prone locations are mostly the SCs and STs, Minorities and OBCs. The State should have community-disaggregated lists of such households to be evacuated on high priority, available with the district authority.
The denial of entry into shelters and inhuman, undignified treatment of Dalits, Adivasis and minorities in shelters have been conclusively established. The state should ensure that every shelter has law enforcement officers and strong legislative provisions to ensure that such criminal exclusion and discrimination are prevented.
Basic Disaster Rise Reduction (DRR) and Panchayat level planning processes should include assigning safe spaces or disaster-resistant housing to every household in every Panchayat. This process should specifically mention the shelter where SC, ST and minority communities would be accommodated together with other communities. This will also expose the deficit of shelters and the government would have to then ensure that adequate safe spaces should be provided. All schools should be converted into disaster resilient structures with RCC roofing.
DRR processes should ensure that all designated shelters should have an adequate number of toilets and bathrooms with adequate water stock.
The stock of tarpaulin should be in the local Panchayat/schools so that people can access it locally and immediately after a disaster. Here again, it would be more efficient and transparent if every family is assigned tarpaulin in advance, with each family accessing it if their houses are damaged. The size of the tarpaulin should at least be 20ftx40ft and should be uniform for all households.
It should be noted that the most marginalized communities require a longer time to recover due to their pre-existing vulnerabilities – both caste and economic status. The immediate financial assistance needs to be enhanced to 10,000 rupees for SC and ST communities disbursed in two instalments in a time-bound manner, with disaggregated reporting and public disclosure.
The housing scenario, especially of the SC, ST, OBC and Muslim communities is a cause for extreme concern. There is a need to expedite with urgency the construction of disaster-resistant houses and re-location to safe locations as part of DRR and the Disaster Management Planning process at every level.
The government should simplify the process of assessing damage to homes and households, most of the people are not aware of the 12 categories of assessment making it difficult for the SC, ST, and minority communities to match their losses.
Sharecroppers and agriculture labourers should also be compensated for the loss of crops, at present the compensation is given only to the landowner.
A bill should be enacted to protect the interests of the fishing community along with a special package of subsidised bank loans or from the fisheries department to repair and purchase of new boats and nets.
The State should provide no/low interest loans/subsidized loans to SC, ST and minorities to restart their enterprises/shops/roadside gallas damaged during the cyclone.
Work under NREGA should be taken up immediately after a disaster to engage people for livelihood.
WOMEN & CHILDREN
The community-disaggregated list of infants and children below three years of age, number of pregnant women and lactating mothers should be known at any given point of time, and special protective measures, age-appropriate food stock and medical provisions.
During disaster times Anganwadis should already have staff/volunteers even before disasters strike, predominantly from the Dalit/Adivasi/Minority communities ensuring that the services reach the SC/ST/minority communities too, based on the pre-prepared list of vulnerable households, infants, adolescent girls, pregnant women, lactating mothers, the elderly, differently-abled and chronically ill patients.
The anganwadi and the health centre should be well-equipped, disaster-resilient structures and should be the nodal points for providing the services they are expected to render.
Children from the SC, ST, Minority and OBC households should be given education kits to replace the school books, bags etc. that they have lost in the disaster.
Children from the SC, ST, Minority and OBC communities should be adequately and appropriately oriented about the local hazards and risks with age appropriate disaster preparedness measures by the authority at local levels.