06/17/2009, 00.00
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West Bengal: emergency remains for victims of Cyclone Aila

by Nirmala Carvalho
Over 100 thousand homeless. Almost 7 thousand the number of people directly affected. Fr. Jothi, a Jesuit priest involved in aid relief: A part from immediate aid we need to intervene straight away to restore farmland.

Calcutta (AsiaNews) – Almost 7 thousand Indians have suffered loss and damage from cyclone Aila that hit the Southern State of West Bengal May 25 to 27th last.  The worst affected areas are North and South 24 Parganas a group of 173 islands on the sea that divides India and Bangladesh.

Fr. Jothi SJ and director of Udayani, a forum of aid organisations helping victims tells AsiaNews that “the cyclone has left more than 100,000 people homeless with little or no access to food, safe drinking water, shelter or medicine. The most severely affected blocks of the district are Gosaba, Basanti, Kulthuli, Muthurapur-I & II, Canning-1 & II, Sagar, Patharpratima and Namkhana”.

A month on since Aila made land fall, a state of emergency is still in vigour in the region.   NGO’s confirm that the cyclone uprooted trees, caused even well- built homes to collapse and electricity supply, transport and communication infrastructure were destroyed. The priest reports that “as of yesterday the government has begun distribution of drinking water in the gram panchayat [municipalities, ed] of Gosaba and already there are incidences of diarrhoea as has also been the case in the gram panchayat of Lahiripur”

Fr. Jothi says the government and op position parties are attempting to respond to the immediate needs of the people, but so far have failed to look at long term recovery programs.  The Jesuit maintains that the “biggest challenge is to get the land cultivable once again”. The “saline water that is chocking the land is a major thread to any near paddy, watermelon and chilly cultivation, which are the major production here”. Shrimp farms have also been hit, the main source of income for the local fishing industry.  Concrete embankments are desperately needed to protect the shrimp cultivation.

Despite the gravity of the situation Fr. Jothi does not despair. “Udayani means Rising Sun and here I see the Rising Sun on the horizon,  Cyclone Aila brought out the generosity and humanity in people in Calcutta city and rural too”.  The priest who has past experience of relief work to victims of past natural disasters explains that “Many NGOs and Youth Groups and other volunteers gather relief materials and reach out to people in an unprecedented manner that is worthy of mention”.


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