Series supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

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                                     1,290 words
                                                                            Photographs Available

Shangnaidar Shows How Disaster Management Is Done
By Ninglun Hanghal

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                                     1,200 words
                                                                            Photographs Available

She Has No Place To Live In This Paradise
By Afsana Rashid

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                                     1,250 words
                                                                            Photographs Available

Disaster Widows Re-Invent Their Lives
By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

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                                     1,240 words
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Climate Refugee Children Miss Normal Life, School
By Saadia Azim

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                                     1,250 words
                                                                            Photographs Available

A Different Kind of Aftershock For Nepali Girls
By Azera Parveen Rahman

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                                     1,290 words
                                                                            Photographs Available

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