A meeting with World Vision India completely changed our outlook towards relief operations in Chennai.
On 8th of November 2015, Chennai woke up to the northeast retreating monsoon (winter monsoon), and by 15th of November, the well-marked low pressure area had moved northwards along the coast of Tamil Nadu, with Chennai International Airport recording 266 mm of rainfall in 24 hours, the highest amount that has been recorded since November 2005. Chennai received 1,049 mm of rainfall in November, the highest since receiving 1,088 mm in November 1918. To top it all, this excessive rainfall could further be exacerbated by an El-Nino year. And 2015, God bless Chennai, was one.
Although the rainfall had largely ceased by November 17, the city remained excessively flooded due to years of illegal development and inadequate levels of flood preparation. As of December 10, more than 400 people have lost their lives and over 1.8 million people have been displaced, with estimates of damages and losses ranging from over 20,000 crore to 1,00,000 crore Indian Rupees.
As the volunteers of ‘World Vision India’ approach the Chintadripet Railway Station, the place that now houses over 800 families from Pallavan Nagar, the scars that the disaster has etched on the lives of the people are both visible and vulnerable – with the toilets being locked away and the pay-and-use toilets at a decent distance, the station caters not only to the needs of the old and the children but has also become a breeding ground for disease bearing germs.
The sea of people turns its face to the volunteers with hopeful eyes, their hands outstretched to grab the food packets and lips curling as potable water tickles their senses. The life of a common man has come to a standstill, the stories of will being crushed under weight of helplessness. Among these, are the stories of Gomathi and Kalaiselvi…
‘I saw the water gushing in and wobbling my house’ says Gomathi, with a shimmer in her eye as she struggles to hold onto her eighteen-month old daughter Angel, ‘we have been in the same set of clothes for four days now, and have been sleeping on the cold floor without mats or blankets’ she says, unable to hold back tears, her dupatta reaches up to her eye and tries embracing it, ‘I’m really scared for my children.’
Her husband, a daily wager, cuddles their son, Geethesh, ‘this is the first time the water has flooded up so high’ he shakes his head, ‘every hour there’s a fight for the toilet that already is so far away.’
Gomathi’s story of devastation echoes closely with that of Kalaiselvi, a mother of three – Kanchan (8), Vishal (9), and Silambarasan (14) – who had to evacuate her house in the middle of the night, as the water level began to rise incessantly. Dressed in a floral saree, an arm running around her son’s shoulder, who sits looking out through the window in his dust-clad checked school shirt. ‘I looked for my schoolbag everywhere before we were forced to move out – it is gone’ he wears an expressionless face, ‘I loved Mathematics.’
The volunteers moved around the station, listening to the heart-wrenching tales of affected and distributing biscuits among the children, under World Vision’s MCI project. Under the same header, they cooked food for over 1200 people living along the flooded areas of Pallavan Nagar, most of whom hadn’t received any food since morning.
With 23 relief camps being setup under the World Vision community, food packets have been distributed among 12,000 flood affected people, and 65,000 water packets have been circulated in 13 relief centers. World Vision We are now reaching out to people with dry rations (dal, oil, wheat) and non-food items including blankets, towels, mats, sanitary and hygiene items.
Some of the very urgent needs of the people remain mats and blankets, clothes and hygiene kits, especially for women, with toilets also being in the high-priority list as open defecation makes the surroundings largely unclean, posing risk for a wide-spread disease. We are doing our bit in our own little way and we urge you to join the force with World Vision India. It is never too late.