HOW PREPARED ARE URBAN POOR TO FACE CLIMATE CHANGE INDUCED DISASTERS?
On the 10th of November, the morning after cyclone Bulbul passed through Odisha coasts, the fear of the storm was still reflecting on faces of people residing in Pandakudia slum on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.
We visited there to see the state of rehabilitation of the urban poor who were severely battered by the extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani a few months ago.
Thankfully, Bulbul did not hit Odisha the way Fani did. However, it did not leave the state without damage.
Thousands of trees were uprooted and broken, around 3 lakh hectares of standing crops were damaged, and around 5.5 thousand houses were destroyed besides one human casualty.
Bhubaneswar was not affected but residents of Pandakudia were on high alert. They did not want to take a chance despite of the fact that they could hardly have saved their houses and belongings from severely damaged had Bulbul hit with the same wind velocity and rainfall intensity like Fani.
This is because most of the houses of this slum, hosting about 500 households are yet to be completely repaired from the damages they suffered due to the May cyclone.
Adaptation gets difficult
Villagers migrate to urban areas for various reasons. The common cause attributed to such migrations is aspiration for a better earning, living and education for their children.
However, conflicts, climate change induced-disasters and other factors too drive a lot of migration. Such distressed migrations make the people more vulnerable to changing conditions as they are not prepared to adapt to the new locations and situations.
Almost about 70 percent of the residents of Pandakudia came to Bhubaneswar from Kandhamal district in the year 2008 after a fierce communal riot, worst in Odisha’s history, broke out in their localities.
They settled themselves in a shanty colony called Jagannath Basti near Jayadev Vihar close to the Kalinga stadium.
Over the years, their livelihood got dependent on working mostly on a daily wage basis in the nearby areas.
Most of the women worked as domestic helps and had established long-standing clientele bases. Things took a nasty turn for all these people in residing near Kalinga Stadium as the government drove them away from there to the current location, almost 10 kilometres away, breaking most of their established links to the local livelihood opportunities.
They are still finding it difficult to find opportunity to work as daily wager or other job opportunities in this location, which is also not connected to public transport facilities unlike the earlier place. Many children, mostly girls, have dropped out from schools.
When they were forced to shift to this place, the government supported them with Rs 35,000 each for houses in this congested location.
The ones who did not have a house in the previous slum just got a support of 5000 rupees.
Many of them, when they came and settled at the previous location about a decade ago, had initially built mud huts but gradually improved upon the same to make concrete houses spending most of their savings.
The compensation that they received after shifting here was not enough to make suitable houses.
So, many of them added remaining savings, some had to top that up with loans. Fani damaged many houses of the colony, and even six months after about 30 to 40 percent of them have not been able to rebuild or repair the same.
They are adjusting with their relatives or neighbours. Current income of the poor people is normally drained out in spending for daily family expenses.
Families who were in this location for long before have faced the Super Cyclone 1999 as well. The colony has absolutely no drainage facility and many toilets have broken during Fani. All the people practice open defecation.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene problems
The news of Bulbul threatened them because of open or weak tin roof shelters, broken toilets and muddy narrow roads which get sticky when it rains.
The only saving grace for this slum is that they have access to safe drinking water through a water ATM that dispenses filtered water but there is a restriction of only 10 litres of water per card that they have bought at 25 rupees.
One has to buy more cards to be able to increase the daily quota. In a colony where many have not even been able to buy the 25 rupee card, water thus is a commodity and not a matter of right.
Storage of water is another huge problem. In want of a proper place, many houses have stored water in the toilet.
Some even are using the toilet as store rooms or bed space. People reported frequent diarrhoea episodes.
More cyclones should not mean more distress
Climate change is already increasing both frequency and intensity of cyclones. Weather watchers have pointed out that frequency of severe cyclones in the north Indian Ocean (the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea) has seen a three-fold increase during the past decades.
As compared to the previous decades, when about one severe cyclone was expected to form every year during the intense cyclonic period — May, October and November — the number has now gone up to about three per year.
With Bulbul, India has already equalled last year’s record of having been hit by seven tropical cyclones in a year.
In fact, last year the country, after being hit by seven cyclones, broke its 33-year record. With more and more number of people migrating to urban areas, and expected to live in such shanty locations, the city authorities need to create a better and resilient world for these communities.
Besides proper housing, they need water, sanitation and hygiene along with livelihood, food and nutrition security.
Cities need to develop their own climate change action plans that consider the urban poor as important stakeholders.
The story was first published in Urban Update