By Linda Unger*
October 18, 2013—At its strongest, Cyclone Phailin, which tore through the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh last weekend, was the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane. It was as strong, that is, as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the US Gulf Coast in 2005.
Thanks to disaster preparedness measures by the Indian government—including the evacuation of more than 800,000 people from coastal areas—casualties were low. Tragically, 21 people lost their lives in the storm, but that number was far fewer than the 10,000 people who died in a storm in the same area in 1999.
“What this shows is that disaster risk reduction works,” commented the Rev. Jack Amick, executive in charge of International Disaster Response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
He was referring to the set of practices communities undertake to decrease their vulnerability to disasters and increase their capacity to respond to and recover from them. To draw attention to this proactive and lifesaving approach, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations, including UMCOR, mark October 13 as International Disaster Risk Reduction Day.
In recent years, UMCOR has focused heavily on disaster risk reduction, adding this training to its disaster response and international development programs.
The organization witnessed firsthand the benefits of the training just last August, when Tropical Storm Trami pelted the Philippines. Leaders and residents of one of the affected communities, Muzon, had had disaster risk reduction training and knew what to do as the storm approached. They were able to minimize casualties and respond to survivors quickly and effectively.
In India, the government worked with local communities in the days leading up to Cyclone Phailin to move residents to safer places before the super storm hit.
“Many lives were saved because appropriate actions were taken,” Amick said.
UMCOR Provides Emergency Assistance
With winds of up to 140 miles per hour, the storm pummeled Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, destroying more than 240,000 homes and 5,000 schools. Livelihoods were severely impacted as fields were flooded and farmers lost their harvests; fishermen lost nets, boats, and catamarans damaged by the storm.
UMCOR is working with Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), to provide emergency food rations for 1,000 families, a total of about 5,000 individuals, affected by the cyclone. The food supply will see them through at least the next two weeks.
CASA, a longtime UMCOR partner in India, already was active in Odisha communities before Cyclone Phailin hit, doing disaster risk reduction work that included establishing storm shelters.
As affected families return to their battered homes, UMCOR and CASA also will provide emergency housing materials—plastic tarps—to ensure basic shelter needs are met while communities organize their rebuilding efforts.
Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will support UMCOR’s work to help communities around the world prepare for disasters, mitigate their impact, and recover from them. Please give now.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.