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J U N E - A U G U S T

Humanitarian response in the wake of one of the most severe cyclones in decades to hit the Indian Sunderbans

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This image of Aila was captured on May 25 2009, by the Nasa Terra Satellite Source: earthobservatory.nasa.gov

Aila Cyclone Aila hit the Sunderbans in the Indian sub continent near Bay of Bengal on the afternoon of 25th May 2009, with galeforce winds up to 120 kmph, and torrential rain. As it crossed over the coastline of South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal, Aila temporarily strengthened to a Category 1 cyclone. Aila ripped through 17 districts in West Bengal, of which South 24 Parganas was one of the worst affected. Storm surges at the coast flooded agricultural areas with saline water. High winds and high tide became a devastating combination.

Impact of Aila Following cyclone Aila, much of the damage was caused by massive flooding, which contaminated drinking water sources with seawater and killed the fish that people rear in the freshwater ponds. This affected people's livelihoods in the long run. As Zubin Zaman, Oxfam India's Program Manager, pointed out, "The ponds are a lifeline - they give people water for household needs, water to irrigate, and fish".

According to UNDMT and media reports, Aila was one of the worst cyclones in decades, in which about 6.3 million people were affected and nearly half a million homes were lost or damaged. Aila Infrared image. Source: nasa.gov

“That day, strong winds were blowing from the east. Sensing danger, a few of us villagers went to examine the nearby embankment and the water level. Sea surges and cyclones are a part of life in the Sundarbans. Four years ago, a similar incident had taken place, but it was not this severe.

began climbing a nearby tree. Soon after, I saw my home collapse with all the belongings inside. I realised that the current was too strong and the tree wouldn't hold my weight any longer. I let go. I was dazed, scared and confused. Luckily I found a wooden plank and clung to it for life. I then managed to wade to higher ground and save myself.

The tide was nearly at level with the embankment and rising fast. Rushing back home, I informed my wife and children to seek shelter at the market place nearly a kilometre away. I stayed back, trying to secure our belongings and preparing for any eventuality. Within a few hours, I heard villagers shouting that the dyke had burst. I saw water rushing towards our home - quick and furious. It engulfed our mud hut and kept rising. I was nearly neck deep when I

The next day, I returned to find everything destroyed; our home, furniture, food stocks and the children's books. I realised that it would take us some time to rebuild what we lost. We waited several days till the local government provided us with rice and a tarpaulin sheet. We will have to start all over again. I will need to rebuild my home, buy new books for my children and continue working to buy food.� Moni Gopal Punti, Indrapur Village

Of the few functional handpumps used for drinking water, most were inundated or choked with debris. Most existing toilets were washed away, and there was serious pollution from sewage and dead animals. The threat of water-borne epidemics was very high, including cholera, which is endemic throughout this area. The supply of safe drinking water had reached crisis levels. For several days following the cyclone, hundreds of thousands of people were homeless, clustered into municipal buildings and schools, camped outside on higher ground.

Sunderbans Sunderbans, meaning "beautiful forest" in Bengali, is known as the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest on earth, and a world heritage site. What is less known is that Sunderbans is home to over a million people, who live in a vulnerable environment, with constant threat of rising sea levels, seasonal flooding and water scarcity, diseases and loss of livelihood. Land mass in this delta region is fragmented into thousands of hard-to -access islands. Most of these are below the sea level, ringed by bunds [traditional embankments], to keep the salt water away. While this provides precious land for human habitation, most areas have to do without electricity, motorable roads, or drinking water connections. People use diminishing underground resources to meet some of their drinking water needs, and harvest rainwater in shallow ponds for all other purposes.

“The surroundings were filthy; rainwater puddles were all over the place. Mosquitoes bred quickly in the stagnant water and we had a lot of trouble with them. It was particularly the children who were not able to sleep because of the insects.” Rokeja Bibi, Junput Village

“Our surroundings were completely changed following Aila. The nearby school was a safe place from the wind and the rain but the sanitation facilities were not adequate there. During the first two weeks the hygiene situation was not good and we had reports of diarrhoea breaking out in the nearby villages. ” Gayathri Nanda, Haripur GP

Path of cyclone Aila

A journey from Kusumtala village in the Namkhana block of the Sunderbans, to the nearest city Kolkata, requires all of several modes of transport - walking, manual "rickshaw vans", boat, bus and the railways. On a good day it takes over four hours to travel one way.

Oxfam response sites

An overview of the strategic, need-based, multisectoral relief and recovery measures, covering 10,000 households over 3 months.


Emergency Shelter for families 10,000 shelter kits distributed to families Each kit comprised the following: Ÿ 1 piece Tarpaulin 18' X 12' 170 GSM Ÿ 1 piece Ground sheet 12'X 9' 130 GSM Ÿ 20 metres of Rope

“Our steel vessels had started getting holes after we used it to carry saline water...the plastic buckets are now durable and sufficient to store water in the home." Anjali Bhuniya, Gobindopur Village "When I moved back to our house the mosquito net was in place and we now spend peaceful nights. As a new mother I also found the soaps to be very useful in maintaining health and hygiene in the house." Prathima Dhali, Gobindopur Village


Oxfam India Aila Response

"Returning from the school building several days later, we managed to put together our home which was completely destroyed. We put the tarpaulin sheet provided by Oxfam across our re-thatched roof to give it additional support against the heavy winds and rain during this season." Joshna Khatoun and Jaina Bibi, Kusumtala Village

Vital Non Food Items (NFI) for families 10,000 NFI kits were distributed to families. Each NFI kit comprised the following: Ÿ 2 Buckets with lid Ÿ 2 Mugs Ÿ 2 Bars washing soap, Ÿ 6 Bars bathing soap Ÿ 240 Aquatabs ™ Ÿ 2 Medicated mosquito nets Ÿ 1 Pack of 10 sanitary pads

Safe Water for Communities Ÿ Repairing of tube well

Minor repairing for above-ground components was done, including changing of washers, handles, plunger set, body, nuts, bolts etc. 103 hand pumps were repaired and made functional. Ÿ Pond dewatering including pond

cleaning and bund repair Community ponds were identified for dewatering. MOUs were drawn up with the Panchayat and pond owners. Altogether 208 ponds were dewatered. Ÿ Water testing

Water testing was routinely done for salinity, residual chlorine and bacteriological tests. 205 such tests were conducted, and communities were made aware of the results of these tests.

"Getting drinking water was the most difficult thing and it was a great relief to get the nearby hand pump desalinated. Moreover we were trained on the safe collection and storage of water at home which has helped us maintain health and hygiene within our homes and in the wider community”. Mamoni Paik, Durganagar Village

hand-pump repair in progress

"All the water in the region was saline and since the water was used for irrigation purposes, most families suffered crop loss . Oxfam supported in removing the saline water. Pumps were installed and water drained out to clean the ponds." Palan Chandra Das, Durganagar Village



Volunteer Training & ORS Booths Ÿ Selection and training of PH volunteers

75 volunteers were trained in the first phase of the work to run ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) booths, where they would demonstrate preparation of ORS and then distribute ORS sachets. Ÿ ORS Booths

91 ORS booths were set up, roughly 6 booths in each of the 15 villages. These were operational round the clock, enabling community members to access ORS at any time day or night, for 3 months following the cyclone.

“Women were the most affected after the cyclone since their hygiene issues could not be met during the immediate wake. Our hygiene promotion activities and particularly surrounding hand washing have been highly appreciated by the community. There has been a drastic improvement in the way people now perceive hygiene in the villages. People have become more conscious on the need to prevent the spread of diseases through good hygiene practices.” Volunteer Sagarika Das, Haripur GP

Community Awareness


Awareness campaigns were organized continuously in all the villages throughout the programme period and were a very effective way of getting messages on public health across to the community . Community sensitisation meeting


Hygiene & Sanitation Ÿ Village cleaning

Campaigns to clear wreckage, garbage in communities, and clearing of streets were conducted. Ÿ Construction of Emergency Toilets

104 community toilets, primarily meant for women and children, were constructed. Each toilet structure, was designed with two latrine units, and was expected to serve up to 50 households in the area. User committees responsible for maintenance of these toilets were also formed during this time. "We carried out rigorous house to house hygiene promotion including the preparation of safe drinking water and hand washing techniques both before and after meals and nature calls. I would really think that it is only as a result of our rigorous work that not even a single case of diarrhoea was reported from our village”. Volunteer Gayathri Nanda, Haripur GP

“Immediately following the disaster the entire area was unclean with dead animals, fish and rotting plants from the saline water. Oxfam and the volunteers were very supportive of our condition and provided us with good training on hygiene.” Asthma Bibi, Kusumtala Village "The toilets provided have been of immense value; the design has made it safe and easy to access particularly for women. We have now established a users and maintenance group of the latrines and intend to continue using them. We can now also ask the panchayat to provide us with similar toilets." Mukhtarun Bibi, Kusumtala Village

Household Monitoring Volunteers visited door to door to ensure that Public Health messages were understood and were being practiced. Each of the 10,000 households in the project area were visited multiple times between June and August 2009.


As contingency relief material arrive, they are Ÿ


transported to remote and disconnected communities. Ÿ Community groups take part in village cleaning

drive. 26 May 09 : Following the cyclone, sea-water Ÿ rushes into the village through a breach in the embankment. Ÿ Farmland and ponds are inundated by the sea-

surge, and men and women struggle with basic necessities like drinking water. Ÿ Mud-houses, a predominant feature of the area,

are devastated in the wake of the cyclone, with little left to salvage.

Ÿ Bandana Bhuniya of Gobindopur village, happy

to have received a medicated mosquito net. Ÿ One of over a hundred handpumps that were

made functional to meet drinking water requirements. Ÿ As a part of the non-food-item kit distribution

drive, a volunteer visits every recipient household to demonstrate how to disinfect drinking water.

Budget distribution Approximately £351,000 was secured under a difficult funding environment. Based on findings from rapid assessment and gaps analysis, OI prioritized distribution of NFI and PHP over engaging in large infrastructural works. This was mainly because the government had an ongoing Total Sanitation Campaign and had announced more water sanitation support to affected communities. Overheads especially in transportation were high due to the remoteness of the targeted location. 47% PHP 24% Shelter 18% HR & Admin. 7% Water & Sanitation 3% WH & Trans. 1% M & E

Response Timeline 25 Cyclone Aila Strikes 26 First IAG meeting in Kolkata, first meeting with field partner 27 Needs Assessment, field partners accompany the team 28 Relief for 10,000 Households planned 29 OGB commitment for a response £200,00, Oxfam Australia pledges support of £25,000 30 Contingency Stocks arrive from Orissa 01 Partnerships formalised June 02 Oxfam base established on the field 03 First distribution of NFI 24 Oxfam Hong Kong pledges £106,000 16 Second round distribution of Hygiene Kits. July 24 Mid-term lessons learnt workshop August 03 Independent Program Evaluation 28 Exit meeting with Community, PRI and Block Administration 31 End of Program activities May

One of over two hundred contaminated ponds Ÿ that were dewatered; in this case, using several electric pumps at a time. Ÿ Community men, women and children try to sal-

vage fish at a recently dewatered pond. Ÿ Testing water quality. Ÿ Women at the newly constructed temporary toi-

let facility.

Abbreviations in this page OI Oxfam India, NFI Non Food Items, PHP Public Health Promotion, HR Human Resources, WH & Trans. Warehousing & Transporation, M&E Monitoring and Evaluation, IAG Inter Agency Group, OGB Oxfam GB, PRI Panchayati Raj Institution

Contingency Stocks

Human Resource Plan Planning for Human Resources for disaster response is a part of Oxfam India's nationwide contingency plan. Under this system professional agencies, potential NGO or CBO partners, volunteers and technical experts from a wide range of sectors are preidentified and, in specific cases, agreements for future engagements are drafted. Individuals and organisations are engaged in ongoing capacity building exercises.

Cyclones, floods, droughts, and man-made disasters have always been features to which Oxfam's humanitarian program must respond. Over the years, Contingency Planning has proved to be one of the best strategies for timely response. Under this plan, vulnerability maps / databases are maintained, and moderate quantities of highly critical relief materials are procured and pre-positioned during peace time. Pre-positioning of contingency stock in East India began from 2005, arising out of the need to quickly reach relief to crisis-prone areas in the East and North East. It has helped save many lives during emergencies, especially in remote areas that get disconnected during severe flooding or cyclones.

Good Practices Experience has enabled Oxfam India to evolve practices that ensure speedy, efficient and appropriate response during emergencies. Here are some highlights:

Within day 4 of the Aila response, Oxfam was able to deploy relief material for 3000 households in Patharpratima block, using the contingency stocks positioned in Orissa. ! ! !

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Contingency stocks are pre-positioned in Œ Orissa  West Bengal Ž Bihar and  Assam A woman returns with relief material while others wait their turn at a Relief Material Distribution centre.

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Keeping contingency stocks helps the organisation to respond within 72 hours. Catastrophic fund (CAT FUND) with Oxfam as well partners helps to initiate a rapid response. Organization Level Disaster Preparedness Plan (OLDP) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) ensures speed and efficiency. Simulation exercise keeps the organization in readiness. Separate set of policies and guidelines for Humanitarian Responses helps to fast-track procedures during emergencies. Critical suppliers are identified, and agreements done beforehand. In-house capacity is continuously built . Working with trained and experienced partners, whose capacities are built during peace time. Engaging with IAG, INGOs, NGOs and government helps to coordinate responses and minimise duplication. Engaging humanitarian professionals, volunteers and leading organizations like RedR India, SPHERE and UNICEF etc. ensures appropriate support when needed.

Partners and Coverage Organisation



Sundarbans Social Patharpratima Development Centre


Indranarayan Patharpratima, Nazrul Samriti Sangh Namkhana


Total *Households covered


Total Beneficiaries


28,201 Women 43%

31,799 Men 57% 50%

Lessons Learnt







A community focus group discussion in progress at the Patharpratima block of the Sunderbans.

Evaluation Benchmarks

At a mid-term workshop held on 24 - 25 July '09, the Oxfam India team gathered to share learning from the work in progress. Here are some highlights:

Oxfam International has the following preset benchmarks against which all disaster risk reduction programmes and crisis responses are evaluated:

Depending on context, different partnership approaches need to be evolved. Some partners can lead an intervention with minimal support while others might need to be led. One approach does not suit all.

A The speed and timeliness of the response will be good relative to other actors, with consideration of emergency preparedness measures in place

Oxfam India (OI) should have a Public Health Advisor who can take lead in developing response strategies and coordination. There is currently no public health lead in the country and hence the OI is dependant on external agencies for technical support. It is assumed that buckets are cheaper than pitcher; however many community members preferred the pitcher to the bucket. A cost analysis needs to be done for procurement and distribution of some items that are preferred by the community. The assessment team should be diverse; including staff with Public Health background. There should be emphasis on participatory planning, especially with partners staff, and participatory assessment for exercises such as pond dewatering. Coordination with Government agencies at district and city level needs to be improved.

B Relief provided is of a quality and scale appropriate to the context that would be expected of Oxfam's capacity, and is valued by the affected population C An effective management structure is in place, provides clear, well-communicated decision-making and direction D Key support functions are sufficiently resourced and being effectively run. Risks that are being taken are being calculated and documented E Oxfam International relationships are productive and well coordinated, under the leadership of OI F The programme has considered the longer term implications and has taken connectiveness into consideration

In August, RedR India initiated an independent evaluation of the Aila response program against these benchmarks.


Evaluation rd


Between 3 and 10 August '09, a three member team from RedR India conducted extensive field visits, FGDs and interviews with key stakeholders within Oxfam, partners and beneficiaries.


The agency submitted a detailed evaluation report, which is summarised here:


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Oxfam India (OI) was able to initiate a quick assessment, and Oxfam staff was on the ground within first 2 days. OI's preparedness in terms of contingency stocks and availability of experts played a major role in the speedy and timely response. They are also important pointers for ensuring a similar speedy response in the future. Identification of good partners at the outset helped in speeding up access, design and launch of the program. This clearly highlights the critical importance of having good partners. OI experience came in handy in designing the response; however the major modifications, especially in the hardware components, indicates that capacity has to be built within OI to improve the design of such inputs. The lack of publicity resulted in failure to raise resources from new sources, which limited OI from expanding to other areas. The initial plan to cover more households was not achieved. Bad weather and poor accessibility to most of the villages was a major challenge in reaching the beneficiaries. Although over a limited area, OI responded well by working with people in the worst affected blocks and were well coordinated with IAG. The targeting was logical and transparent; special focus was maintained on women and children. The response package had a lot of emphasis on distributions, and Public Health (PH) & Hygiene promotion.

A member of the RedR India team, accompanied by a partner staff member, in conversation with women in the Namkhana block of Sunderbans.

Much of this work has been conducted under conditions of change – frequent disasters, rising population densities, deteriorating natural resources, and increasingly uncertain and unpredictable climatic conditions. Oxfam's humanitarian response work is about 'preparedness at all times' allowing our teams to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to providing aid where it is required most.

About Oxfam Oxfam has 50 years of experience working with the world's poorest and most vulnerable disaster hit communities across the country. Over the years, Oxfam has worked to assist poor rural people living in marginal or vulnerable geographies to be prepared and manage their hazard risks thus reducing their vulnerability to disasters. }

Oxfam is a world leader in disaster response, renowned for providing clean water and sanitation to save lives and prevent further losses by stopping the outbreak of deadly diseases. Every year, we respond to emergencies in over 30 countries around the world. In India Oxfam has responded to all major humanitarian crises within India with speed and has maintained consistent focus on water &

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The Engineering interventions were low capital intensive and very effective.

Key Donors and Funding

In many villages, the pre-existing watsan infrastructure did not meet sphere minimum indicators. This is an issue Oxfam can consider for a longer term engagement in the area.


£ 200,000

The program was responsive to changing needs, and community interactions were an important component of decision making.

Hong Kong

£ 106,000


£ 20,000

Individual Indian donors and Corporates

£ 10,000

The 'ways of working' document prepared by Oxfam manger ensured the field staff were clear about the process of implementation. The high percentage of women volunteers helped in targeting women and children in the PH programs, which was instrumental in giving better results. The monitoring system can be further developed and standardised by OI for all its emergency responses in the future.

* Oxfam GB also provided lead and Humanitarian Support Personnel (HSPs). OGB played an advisory role by deploying one of their senior most humanitarian leads to India for support.

The logistics team was somewhat over burdened. However, the presence of experienced persons made a difference. Excited children at Kusumtala village. In the background, saline water is being pumped out from a pond

"Overall, the OI response was a successful program. It was a well designed, well targeted and well implemented response based on the institutional understanding that Oxfam has developed over several flood responses in the recent past."

sanitation, emergency shelter and food aid to the worst affected and unreached during a humanitarian crisis. Oxfam's humanitarian work in India focus on the three objectives of Oxfam's Rights in Crisis Framework: Ÿ Responsibility to protect, Ÿ Right to assistance, and Ÿ Disaster Risk Reduction and securing

livelihoods in vulnerable areas. Oxfam India's risk reduction and disaster preparedness programming works at many levels. It saves lives, reduces vulnerability to major threats, enhances the capacity of partner organisations to respond to crises, strengthens the capacity of the rural poor to respond to the disasters, and promotes a broad range of livelihood security programmes in disaster prone areas.

Thank You! Oxfam India, on behalf of partners and the people of Sunderbans, would like to thank the Individual Indian donors and Corporates. Without their valued contributions, it would not have been possible to reach the target of providing relief and recovery services to 10,000 households; about 60,000 men, women and children.

Donors Oxfam GB Oxfam Hong Kong Oxfam Australia Oxfam International


Head Office Oxfam India Plot 1, Community Centre, 2nd Floor New Friends Colony New Delhi 110 065, India Tel.: +91(0) 11 4653 8000 Fax: +91(0) 11 4653 8099 Regional Office Oxfam Kolkata 30 S/B Block B, New Alipore Kolkata 700053 West Bengal, India Tel.: +91(0) 33 2445 6650 / 6793 Children show off their soapy hands at a hygiene camp


Indranarayan Nazrul Smriti Sangh (INSS) Sundarban Social Development Centre (SSDC)

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Reckoning with Aila  

Report on the relief and recovery work by Oxfam India partners in the wake of Cyclone Aila in 2009.

Reckoning with Aila  

Report on the relief and recovery work by Oxfam India partners in the wake of Cyclone Aila in 2009.