Women at the heart of the Cyclone Phailin recovery response | ActionAid UK

Naba Kishor Pujari

Documentation Officer ActionAid India

Cyclone Phailin laid waste to India's Odisha coast in October 2013. Naba Kishor Pujari from ActionAid India reports on how local women have been at the centre of the emergency response.

Sushama is a member of her village's emergency response committee
Sushama is a member of her village's emergency response committee in India

When I visited Chenua, a coastal village in Odisha early in July this year, I saw a very different picture to the devastation I witnessed in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin in October 2013.

Last year Chenua village was broken by the cyclone, with crops destroyed and residents unable to work or access clean water.

With funding support from the European Union, we were able to assess the damage and partner with local organisation Young India to work with villagers to repair it. Local women headed up a village disaster response committee and acted as strong community leaders for the work ahead.

Community projects reap rewards

The response support enabled the villagers to operate a cash for work scheme. This meant that local people were paid to carry out necesssary work to repair the Cyclone damage, ensuring that they were still able to support themselves while rebuilding their village.

Some of the work carried out as part of the scheme included:

  • rebuilding and repairing damaged houses for people made homeless by the cyclone.
  • replanting devastated Betelvine crops.
  • planting new trees to protect against future disasters.
  • repairing, chlorinating and purifying wells.

Talking to community members at each stage of the response has assured me that these projects are enabling the villagers to better feed themselves, meet the educational and health needs of their children and respond to future flooding.

Empowering local women

Sushama is a member of the village disaster response committee. When I spoke to her she told me how involving local women had helped shape the future of the village.

“It was the first time women in our village took part in creating community assets. The support we got from ActionAid and Young India has enabled us to increase our food consumption and empowered the village women to participate and take decisive roles in other village level issues.”

“As a result of cyclone damage, acessing water for drinking and bathing was a major challenge in the village. Women had to face daily humiliation by bathing in the tube well which was installed in the entrance of the village. So we decided to excavate a pond to end the long time crisis of water for our village.”

The new pond excavation will not only help local women keep their dignity, it will potentially provide paid employment for 48 local people from 37 village households in need of support.

Road to recovery

Villagers were also able to repair the main access road to the village with support from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

The MGNREGA guarantees employment for anyone who applies to the scheme, but people often do not know how to apply. After the completion of the cash for work programme, Chenua villagers felt confident they could fill in the forms and demand jobs under the Act and many have already received some work in response.

Mr. Tunganath Pradhan, the social mobiliser of the village told me “it was easy for the villagers to demand jobs under MGNREGA as the process adopted in cash for work was similar in approach and its implementation. Now, they are empowered to interact with Panchayat (government) officials and local Panchayat Raj Institute members to gain access to their entitlements through government schemes”

Sushama is one of a number of female villagers who have applied for work under the scheme, marking a new point in the journey of local women to take charge of their futures.

One year on, the village Chenua is now well on the road for recovery, but there is still a lot to do to repair the damage of Cyclone Phailin.

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This article refers to humanitarian aid activities implemented with the financial assistance of the European Union (EU). The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the EU, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.