On the 12th of October 2014, the city of Visakhapatanam along with its neighbouring coastal villages in the district witnessed a climate catastrophe of an unimaginable scale. Cyclone Hudhud with wind speeds close to 220kmph ransacked the entire landscape of the city leaving people homeless and stranded!

A week-old report released by the Visakhapatanam district administration claims 13-lakh families to have been affected in and around the city along with a loss of 800-odd hectares of green cover in the city alone. The report further classifies this data by stating infrastructural damages running into several thousand crores and the total number of damaged houses adding up to more than 90,000. Read the report here

 

06 November 2014 Trees uprooted by winds that accompanied Cyclone Hudhud at Savitri Nagar in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.

(c) Harsha Vadlamani

 

As in the case of any natural calamity or disaster, the worst hit here too are the poor and the underprivileged. Those living in the slums of Visakhapatanam and in the villages off the coast were left completely marooned – their houses broken and toppled over and belongings blown off by the gust. The economic loss incurred by the slum-dwelling communities and the fisher folk dependent on the sea for their daily bread is exponentially high compared to that of the others. Those living in the pucca houses and high-rise buildings suffered the loss of a broken window or two while the poor lost everything that was theirs.

06 November 2014 A woman carries water at Gandhi Nagar slum in Kancharapalem, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.

Aftermath of Cyclone Hudhud in Visakhapatnam, India © Harsha Vadlamani/Greenpeace India

 

The 2014 report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) alerts the world on the adverse impacts of global warming. The report highlighting its findings on the rising sea levels, melting of the arctic ice and deteriorating crop yields said that the impacts of global warming are unequivocal and that the temperatures will continue to rise in the coming years.In a span of less than two years, India had to bear the brunt of two major floods and cyclones, with Hudhud being the latest. Mr.J.Ratnam, an environmental journalist and activist from GreenClimate News says “ The city of Visakhapatanam has never seen a disaster of this scale and the cyclone has impacted more than 20-lakh people in and around the city, In particular, those living in the non-notified slums. The non-notified slums have received little or no assistance”. He feels that the extent of damage could have been mitigated if not for the rapid industrialisation and destruction of local ecology along the coast.

Contrary to the Govt propaganda on a successful relief drive by its newly elected Chief Minister, a visit to a handful of the slums in the urban areas disclosed hundreds of families without access to shelters, electricity and sanitation.

Kuruvara Venkataramana, a 60-year-old blind man from Gandhi Nagar Slum, Railway Area, Visakhapatanam [I have been living in these hutments along with 50 families mostly employed as rag pickers and washermen since 1974. The very thought of what happened on the 12th makes me tremble. As the trees started falling on our homes, we ran in fear for our lives and took shelter in the houses where we labour. The next day, when we returned, the cyclone has dismantled our homes and our land was filled with debris from snakes, broken trees and dead animals. We have so far received rice and dal(lentils) from the Govt and not even a blanket or temporary relief shelters]. 

06 November 2014 Kuruvara Venkataramana photographed at Gandhi Nagar slum in Kancharapalem, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.

(c) Harsha Vadlamani

 

Varalakshmi, a 28-year-old pregnant lady residing in Ambedkar Colony, Gandhi Nagar Slum located on the hill slopes of Visakhapatanam[I am 7 months pregnant and I was unable to walk with the wind making small tornadoes all around and things flying out of the nearby houses. My in-laws and other men helped me trek down the hill. We broke the locks of the pucca houses across the road and stayed there till the storm receded. I struggled a lot as I had no water to drink and food to eat. I am surprised that I am alive today.

Rajeshwari, an 11-year old school-going girl from Shiva Ganesha Nagaram Slum, located along the coast in the city [On the 12th night, there was a wind and a sand storm. My books and my belongings started flying off along with the roof of my house. My parents and I had to run to the temple nearby to take shelter with the help of a few men from the slum. The next day morning when I walked up to my house, I found nothing but a few sticks in the shape of a house]

06 November 2014

Rajeshwari, an 11-year old school-going girl from Shiva Ganesha Nagaram Slum (c) Aishwarya Madineni

 

Most of the slum-dwellers and urban poor we spoke to felt that the Govt has not reached out to them wholeheartedly and that most of their relief operations have failed them. Thousands of families lost their houses, official documents and all their basic amenities to the ghastly cyclonic winds on the 11th night. The changing climatic conditions across the globe indicate that extreme weather events are here to stay and in the light of the recent events in the country, be it Kashmir or Kedarnath, many researchers and environmentalists such as EAS Sharma feel that “there needs to be a robust disaster management mechanism in place and that the Govt should be ready to invest and empower the local panchayats to tackle disasters of this scale”.  

Aishwarya Madineni is a campaigner at Greenpeace India