Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Disasters Count In Life

It is nearly three months since Cyclone Aila struck 18 districts out of 19 districts in West Bengal, affecting 6.8 million people, killing 139 persons, and over 100 million dollars in damages. The most affected were two southern districts : North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas. By the time the relief operations were over in south Bengal, the northern districts of Malda, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar were affected by flash floods and river erosion. The landslides in Darjeeling however went without much news, other than for little media report on the problems relating to transport of materials during emergency from the plains to the hills. All these took place between 15 - 19 August 2009. Then came another disaster in southern districts of Bengal, where 10 districts were affected due to heavy rains. Worst hit was the Hooghly district, along with some parts of Burdwan and West Midnapore districts. These districts were thrown out of gear due to opening of two dams in the borders of West Bengal. According to government estimates, at least one million people were affected in the district of Hooghly alone! Over all, 180 persons have died and assets worth over 150 million has been wiped out since Aila, besides the long term impacts on children, livelihoods, education and health services. One thing seem to be becoming more and more clear: wherever there is a disaster....I seem to be the victim! That's on the lighter vein. I have been involving over 30 organizations to do four multi-sectoral assessments of the damages (3 in north bengal, 1 in south bengal), and over 35 persons to complete the exercise. The disasters have changed my life. Changed for ever!!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Counting the Migrants

During a meeting of Non-Profit Organizations serving the people affected by Cyclone Aila in South 24-Parganas District of West Bengal, I was faced with the severe problem of people migrating to other parts of the State and the country for livelihood options. Since these places are known for migration, but this time it seemed to be more in distress, I sat down to write a project to do a study on "Has Cyclone Aila led to increased migration--if yes, to what extent, and how this is socially, economically distributed? What are the implications of this on gender and children related issues?

The project was proposed to Catholic Relief Services, which has accepted to fund the study. And so a team has been formed to do it : The Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will support for three Panchayats, WWF will support with personnel for two, Palli Unnayan Samity will be the local coordinating partner, Ms. Bhaswati Thakurta of Women Studies Research Center, University of Calcutta, and Puthumai A. Nazarene for Data Management and Analysis. The team will begin its work from 6 Aug 2009 and the study is expected to be completed by 31 Oct 2009.

Lightings : Are they More Powerful in the Evenings?

The month of August has begun with two tragic events in West Bengal, besides the death of the State Minister of Transport, Mr. Subhas Chakraborty. On 4 Aug, Tuesday, at 6.00 p.m. a group of villagers conducting post-funeral rites, after the death of a 60 year old man 12 days before in the village, about 150 kms North-West of Kolkata, were struck by a lightning, and eight of them were killed on the spot, and one died in the hospital. On 5 Aug, Wednesday, a group of workers repairing a damaged embankment in another village (Bagbagan, of Rangabelia, in Gosaba Block of South 24 Parganas district) in the Sunderban forests in the Gangetic delta of West Bengal, about 130 kilometers South East of Kolkata were struck by a lightning, and one person was killed, and two are seriously injured, with four others suffering minor injuries. The incident took place at 4.30 p.m. in the afternoon.

This makes me wonder --are there no lightnings in the mornings? Why the lightnings seem to kill a lot more people in the evening than in the morning? Are they more "powerful", or is it sheer chance that the people just come on its way, and get killed? Any clues? Any answers?