Phailin(g) to tell the story

The dead make a better story than the living. Failure of media to continue reporting Phailin will take the pressure off administration to provide relief and rehabilitation

The dead make a better story than the living. Failure of media to continue reporting Phailin will take the pressure off administration to provide relief and rehabilitation

The feared deaths from cyclone Phailin didn’t happen due to both prediction and preparation, but the storm is still to abate for the millions of people now facing the brunt of floods in Odisha’s Balasore and Mayurbhanj districts.

But the mainstream media seems to have moved on. Both the international press and our own television channels are far more enthusiastic about Sunday’s Madhya Pradesh stampede than the continuing wrath of Phailin.

To my mind, we can keep the focus on both – it’s far from being an “either or situation”.
Given that it's election season, the Congress versus the BJP game even when it comes to the stampede in Madhya Pradesh makes for a better “talking heads” show than the consequences of the loss of livelihoods that the cyclone has doled out. 

We know that disasters make news, but disasters make sustained news when accompanied by mega death tolls. In that sense, Phailin failed to make the grade while a bumbling administration in Madhya Pradesh ensured a spectacular stampede story on Sunday.

Kanak Mani Dixit, the editor of Himal magazine, tweeted on Monday, “Continuous, potentially devastating heavy rain in Nepal, but world media seems to have lost interest in #Phailin !”

A PTI report from Bhubaneswar estimated Tuesday that 200,000 people have been affected in Balasore district alone, while a Down To Earth correspondent pointed out that 8,000 persons were trapped by flood waters in just two villages of the district.

A front-page story in the Indian Express newspaper headlined “Lives saved, but not means of livelihood: Lost my boat, fishing nets” summed up the state of the people affected by the cyclone.

The report, datelined Podampeta in Ganjam, quoted Shriram as saying: “I have saved myself and my family, but my house is gone. I have lost my fishing nets, boat and everything that I owned.”

There’s no electricity in a staggering 10,000 villages in coastal Odisha.
“Around 13 million people, spread over 110 blocks, 15,315 villages, 39 towns and 1,924 gram panchayats in Odisha have been affected [by Phailin]. Standing paddy crop on over 500,000 hectares have been damaged.  and 832 cattle also perished because of nature’s fury,” said S N Patro, revenue minister of Odisha told Down to Earth.

Yes, their lives have been saved, but the source of income for many – their boats and fishing nets – have been taken by the swirling waters.

As police and civil officials have admitted more than once, many people didn’t want to move from their homes and had to be forcibly taken to temporary shelters.

Their reluctance to move was understandable – the poor are only too aware that abandoning their homes and belongings meant that they would have nothing to come back to.
And, as the reportage proves, that’s only too true.

The victims of Phailin have little or nothing to keep their lives going. 

If the government doesn’t step in with a rehabilitation package, distress levels are only going to rise. So, it’s imperative that after the immediate relief measures, the government puts in place a robust rehabilitation mechanism.  

There’s little doubt that media pressure keeps the administration on its toes. While both the Odisha and Central governments did a great job in preventing deaths in the direct line of Phailin, they will have to act together to help rebuild people’s lives.
Our thinking about disasters can’t end with landfall.

Let’s not kid ourselves. In a country like ours, rehabilitation is never an easy process. Nor will it be this time.

But if Phailin remains a story for the media, then the government might be pushed to deliver a meaningful rehabilitation package.

Fingers crossed.



Down To Earth