Violence, conflict and natural disasters irrevocably
affect the lives of people, especially the women, children
and the disabled, who inevitably are the unfortunate victims
of these circumstances. Already weighed down by an unequal status
in society, their health and well-being are further compromised
as the societal structure breaks down in the face of such turmoil.
This series of articles will focus on aspects of security,
rehabilitation needs, vulnerabilities of women, children and the
disabled, health and education, migration, etc, in situations of
conflict and post disaster scenarios.
Trial By Fire: Women Pick Up The Pieces
By Shwetha E. George
The dictionary defines ‘disaster’ in different ways: ‘destruction’, ‘distress’, ‘a total failure’, ‘a grave misfortune’… But to 58-year-old Subhashini, it means “homeless within three hours”; to 24-year-old Neethu, it means “double-shift” as a caregiver to her infant daughter and 33-year-old injured husband; to 56-year-old Chandrika, it means a year-long vigil over her son, Prashant, 28, who is recouping from four surgeries, because today even a fever can end it all for him. These women’s lives didn’t change because of some catastrophic tsunami or earthquake; they were shattered in a single moment because a group of callous temple officials wanted extravagant fireworks despite being denied official permission to do so. Earlier this year, in one of the worst temple fires in the country, hundreds of pilgrims visiting the Puttingal Temple in Kollam, and residents in its vicinity, lost their lives and loved ones. Several months have gone by and yet the survivors, especially women, are unable to come to terms with the tragedy. When disaster strikes, particularly a manmade one such as this, it’s usually the women who set aside their grief to pick up the pieces. But ever so often they are left wondering if it was avoidable and whether the rescue and rehabilitation services are indeed adequate.
* “The uncertainty was killing,” she recalls, “We didn’t know if he was dead or taken injured to the hospital. It took four hours before one of our relatives spotted him in the general ward of the Medical College.”
WFS REF NO: INDPA03I
By Ninglun Hanghal
Shangnaidar Shows How Disaster Management Is Done
Even recalling the lashing rain, which continued for days on end, followed by massive landslides, road cave-ins, a bridge collapse, and hundreds of crumbling homes, brings chilling fear back to her bones. If that wasn’t apocalypse then what was. It has taken months together for families in Chandel district of Manipur to get back to some semblance of a life that was so cruelly decimated by the deluge last year. But if it wasn’t for women like Shangnaidar Tontang, communities reeling under the severe impact of all the destruction around them wouldn’t have been able to overcome this “difficult test”. With no previous experience in either emergency response or rehabilitation it’s been a huge learning curve for her too, but living amidst the disaster and looking for solutions keeping women, children and elders in mind has enabled her to make a difference. From getting roads rebuilt to finding a viable livelihood for women she, and the organisation she set up last year, has done it all.
* “These days, we conduct training sessions on preparing to combat disaster situations and provide trauma counselling. Although natural disasters cannot be predicted, one thing’s clear we will not be caught unawares.”
WFS REF NO: INDP921I
By Afsana Rashid
She Has No Place To Live In This Paradise
There just seems to be no end to the nightmare brought
on by the September 2014 deluge and flooding that claimed more than 280 lives
and damaged property worth crores across Jammu and Kashmir. Ask Raja Begum, Noora Begum,
Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, Mohammad Rafiq, Ghulam Ahmad… and each one of them
has a telling tale – of losing their home, their livelihood, the chance to study.
It's been two years now and most of them are still fighting to get a roof over their
heads and viable earning opportunities that would enable them to get back to the decent
life they once led. In fact, securing their rightful entitlements under the government's
social welfare schemes, especially under housing programme for the rural poor,
seems to be their top priority.
* “It is very hard to manage things in just a small space and things get
especially bad when the weather is extreme.”
WFS REF NO: INDP704I
By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna
Disaster Widows Re-Invent Their Lives
Sunita Devi was only a slip of a girl when she was married off at 15.
Seven years later, she was widowed when her husband perished in the deadly flash floods that
swept away the township of Kedarnath around the holy shrine in the mountain
state of Uttarakhand in 2013. Today, the 25-year-old is still coming
to terms with life as a young widow single-handedly raising her
three children - aged nine, eight and five - and supporting her
elderly mother-in-law. Widowed young, Vijaya Devi,
36, was anyway struggling to make ends meet when the “the greatest
disaster since the 2004 tsunami” snatched away her eldest son,
the sole earning member, who was working in a restaurant near Kedarnath.
Then there is Gita Bisht, Dhuma Devi, Vimla Devi… among the
hundreds of thousands of women who saw their entire existence being
obliterated by the raging waters of the Ganges. The districts of
Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Uttarkashi are now home to
widows and orphans. But instead of taking things lying down, the
hardy women have set aside their deep sorrows and losses to get
down to the task of re-building and re-inventing. Three years on,
while the pain of losing their loved ones hasn’t faded, at least
monetarily things are finally looking up.
* “I have made 16 sweaters so far and with my earnings
I have extended my house from a single room to two rooms and a kitchen.”
WFS REF NO: INDP530I
By Saadia Azim
Climate Refugee Children Miss Normal Life, School
Ashmina and Alima Khatoon, Sheikh Firoz and Rabiya Khatoon
may be in their early teens but fear has been a part of their life ever since
they can remember. It's real, omnipresent and palpable – and yet they have been
forced to normalise, reconcile and resolve those feelings of panic and extreme
loss. Of course, this is not the doing of some miscreant or violent groups; this
nightmare has been unleashed by nature. Living near the banks of Muri Ganga on
Ghoramara island, which is part of the Sunderbans delta, these youngsters and their
families are among the many climate refugees in this region that are never really sure
whether they would even have a roof over their heads for more than a couple of days. In fact,
for the harassed women and children of this sinking island, their whole existence revolves
around ensuring survival. Whereas Firoz helps his mother to make coconut leaf mats that
they need nearly on a daily basis to reinforce their roof, Ashmina and Alima are learning the
technique of strengthening walls with cow dung cakes – skills they feel are more valuable
than formal education. In any case, the lone school on the island is closed for most of
the year as either the teachers cannot commute due to flooding or the premises becomes a
temporary shelter when their homes get inundated.
* “Children like my Rabia are used to running out in the middle of
the night to take shelter on the first floor in the school building
when the high tides wash away our homes.”
WFS REF NO: INDP516I
By Azera Parveen Rahman
A Different Kind of Aftershock For Nepali Girls
April would mark one year of the devastating earthquake,
measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, which had struck the Himalayan nation of Nepal,
killing over 8,000 people and playing havoc with the lives of 53,000 families.
Whereas the frequency of tremors has since been falling gradually – although the
region has recorded around 200 aftershocks – there is one fallout of the disaster
that continues to haunt the ravaged communities. Human misery and helplessness always
catches the attention of traffickers, who prey on people’s vulnerability and
desperation to rebuild their lives. The situation in Nepal has been no different.
Young women and children have been lured away from their families into India on the
pretext of a better life. But instead of the promised opportunities most of them are
pushed in flesh trade, some end up as domestic help, while others are forcibly married.
“Girls were starving, border guards were more corrupt, taking advantage
of the power they had during the block. Smugglers and criminals gained more power,
trafficking daughters with just the promise of a handful of rice or some cooking oil,
like in the days of the Bengal famine.”
WFS REF NO: INDP323I
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