Picking up the pieces in India after Cyclone Hudhud

Six-months later, survivors are struggling to rebuild amid a lack of promised government compensation.

Gandhinagar slum was one of the hardest hit areas in Visakhapatnam by the cyclone [Umika Pidaparthy/Al Jazeera]
Gandhinagar slum was one of the hardest hit areas in Visakhapatnam by the cyclone [Umika Pidaparthy/Al Jazeera]

Visakhapatnam, India – Om Namah Shivaya doesn’t really know how to tell people where he lives ever since his home was blown away by Cyclone Hudhud that struck India’s southeastern coast six months ago.

Shivaya, a 50-year-old construction worker, used to live in Gandhinagar, a slum in the city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh state with his wife and three children.

But on October 12, 2014, they were forced to abandon their thatched hut and escape the strong winds and heavy rain.

Leaving behind all their belongings, the family ran and took shelter with acquaintances, Shivaya told Al Jazeera. “Our entire home was flooded with water. We didn’t even try to come back for one or two months.”

Hudhud battered India’s coast with winds of up to 195km per hour, killing more than 20 people. It was a relatively low death toll for what is considered to be one of the world’s costliest disasters in 2014 at nearly $11bn.

The speedy government evacuation of about 700,000 people in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states has been credited for preventing the loss of far more lives.

Om Namah Shivaya says the government should provide some reconstruction help [Umika Pidaparthy/Al Jazeera]

Half-an-hour from Gandhinagar there is a fishing colony called Peda Jalaripeta, where 27-year-old Paidi stood on the beach next to the remains of her brick and cement house which was flattened by Hudhud.

Her family of five managed to escape to her aunt’s house when the cyclone struck, but when they returned everything was gone.

Paidi’s house will cost at least $5,000 to repair, but she has only received $128 in compensation so far.

“I have never seen a cyclone like this in my entire life,” she said. “What else can we do? We go from one place to another and try to submit the papers required.”

Almost immediately after the cyclone hit, essential commodities such as rice, lentils, kerosene, sugar, potatoes, onions, and palm oil were distributed to affected families, and a little extra for fishermen and weavers who had lost their livelihoods in the storm.

Promises of compensation of a minimum $40 up to a maximum of $640 were made to families whose thatched huts – made of leaves, wood, mud, and tarpaulin – were destroyed or damaged.

Paidi’s house will cost at least $5,000 to repair but she has only received $128 [Umika Pidaparthy/Al Jazeera]
But for Shivaya and other slum dwellers, that money has yet to come. For three months, Shivaya was unable to work as construction projects ground to a halt and he struggled to support his family and send his children to school.

In a slum of 140 families, his is one of the 70 who have yet to receive any compensation.

About three kilometres from Gandhinagar, Al Jazeera visited RH Colony, another slum mainly inhabited by Dalit and Muslim communities. While many there said they had received compensation, one resident said she knew of only 10 people who got $80.

Pragada Srinivasu, the city convener for the Campaign for Housing and Tenurial Rights, said receiving compensation comes down to providing identity documents.

For Indian citizens, a ration card and Aadhar, a unique identification number, serve as proof of identity and address anywhere in the country. Initially, it was stated that compensation would be provided to those who could produce either of these.

Mattanarayanamma is forced to beg at temples where some take pity and give her money [Umika Pidaparthy/Al Jazeera]

“The problem is, many people in the slums don’t have ration cards or Aadhar identification cards,” he said. “So they only enumerated 25 percent of the slum dwellers.”

“Most people in the slums live in thatched houses, so they won’t have a house tax,” he added. “After the cyclone also they are in the same situation, just a little bit worse off.”

But bearing the brunt of Hudhud’s damage are the fishing communities in Visakhapatnam, the city which suffered the most from the cyclone. Many lost their boats and nets to the sea or to irrevocable damage.

Kantipuchi Pavithraraj pointed to his boat which is being repaired. “We were very scared that night. We grabbed a torch light and ran up to some schools for safety.”

Another fisherman Puthu Srinu, 40, said many people have taken loans to cover the cost of repairs because the money hasn’t arrived. Adding to their worries, the fisherman say there’s been a severe reduction in their catch after the cyclone.  

“There was a rumour that we would get 5,000 or 10,000 boats [from the government]. But we have not received anything yet,” Srinu said.

“There are 500 boats damaged and only three people here got the money. What kind of justice is that?”

Peda Jalaripeta, the fisherman’s colony, has some functioning boats left, while others were completely destroyed [Umika Pidaparthy/Al Jazeera]

Narasimhan Yuvraj, a district magistrate, is the key officer handling the cyclone relief and rehabilitation efforts.

He said the issue of compensation is out of their hands because as of March 6, the central government had released only about $100m of the $160m promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit here after the storm.

Of that amount, he told Al Jazeera, only $32-$48m has been released by the Andhra Pradesh state government.

Furthermore, the amount promised for housing was simply not sufficient to reconstruct and rebuild homes, he said, although “so many people, so many NGOs have come forward” to help.

Yuvraj said on the issue of identity cards, the rule was changed to include those who don’t have Aadhar IDs.

“During any disaster there are chances of exploitation, we want to make sure the money goes to the right people,” he explained. “The only condition we made was no cheques and that the money would have to be put in a bank account.”

Yuvraj said there is a $51m government scheme in the works for the construction of 9,000 permanent structures for low-income urban families that lost their homes in the cyclone.

The death toll was relatively low thanks to a government evacuation that moved 700,000 people [Umika Pidaparthy/Al Jazeera]

But some residents say their attempts to build their own permanent houses after the cyclone have been thwarted by the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation – an urban civic body that looks after infrastructural and community requirements of the city – because they are seen as illegal settlements.

The organisation has been in the news for its drive to pull down unauthorised structures since January 2014 to make way for Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s vision of a coastal “smart city”. 

Srinivasu said he has been fighting for the right of these communities to build permanent houses, adding he hopes the Model Property Rights to Slum Dwellers Bill that entitles them to a long-term dwelling will be enacted. 

While the slums were “totally devastated” after Cyclone Hudhud, he sees the rehabilitation work as an opportunity to start anew.

“Implementation is the problem – we know there are so many proposals pending. All we are asking is for the government to clear it,” Srinivasu said. “If they can provide it, most of the slum people can finally get houses.”

Follow Umika Pidaparthy on Twitter: @UmikaP

Source: Al Jazeera


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