May 12, 2019

Post Fani, Bhubaneswar Continues To Fight For Electricity & Water

Photograph: The Quint/ Basudev Mahapatra
With thousands of trees uprooted, property damaged, Cyclone Fani has left a trail of destruction in its wake. Life after Fani continues to remain nightmarish for the people of Odisha’s capital city Bhubaneswar, with basic amenities like clean water, electricity and mobile connectivity still not available. A week since the cyclone, residents of Bhubaneswar's Nayapali area are barely managing without these basics.

“We are living a life worse than people living in forests. We feel as if we are in exile, in a place isolated from the rest of the world,” said advocate Sushant Kumar Rath, 52, of IRC village.

He continues, “People are toiling in the summer heat throughout the day and spending sleepless nights in the absence of electricity. It's shocking that the government is turning a blind eye to our condition.”

A Callous Administration

Kirti Chandra Barik, 45, an advocate, told The Quint that the government’s ‘action’ to restore all basic services and amenities, has been utterly dissatisfying, and that the administration has been particularly callous with regard to restoring electricity.

While participating at a mass demonstration at the Central Electricity Supply Utility (CESU) sub-station at IRC village, Barik said, “These people in charge of power supply are highly insensitive to the issues people face in absence of electricity. They don’t have minimum humanity and sympathy for people who are in acute distress.”

It’s not just the heat that the lack of electricity has made difficult to suffer.

“We are facing difficulties in selling our cheese as we solely depend on street lights to sell the cheese we bring from our homes in Nimapar, because the city has been in the dark since Fani,” said Purna Behera, 48, a cheese vendor.

“The other problem is that of water, which we have to bring from villages because there’s a scarcity in Bhubaneswar.”

Condemning the inadequacy or complete lack of relief measures taken by the government to restore normalcy, Behera said, “We have seen Bhubaneswar affected by many cyclones before. But this time, the situation is different because there is no seriousness from the government or the state administration to restore normalcy and resume essential services in the capital city.”

Water Woes

Life is even worse for Manasi Nayak, 30, of Salia Sahi, a pregnant woman who had to wait for the water tanker to collect water for her family.

“There is no other way. During hot summer days, how can we survive without water?” Nayak asked. “Water supplied through pipes comes to the slum once a day for a limited time. In case we miss that, we have to live without water through the day.”

‘Nobody Cares About Our Problems Because We Are Poor’

“Nobody understands our problems because we are poor, helpless people living in slums. The water tanker came day before yesterday and we saw another tanker today. Nobody bothered about how we survived yesterday without water,” said Malati Hembram, who also came to collect water when a tanker was in her lane in the Salia Sahi slum.

It's worth mentioning that regular supply of water through tankers started in Salia Sahi only after the slum-dwellers staged a mass demonstration by blocking all nearby roads. Things have not been well with people living outside the slum in their own or rented houses.

“The water meant for us is stored in the sump. As there is no electricity to lift water to the overhead tanks, we have to collect 20-25 buckets of water manually for our own consumption,” Gitarani Rath, a housewife from Jaydev Vihar area, said.

“Even though we have a water purifier at home, we are drinking the supply water directly without any purification. In case the water supply is delayed or disrupted on any day, we have no other options but to manage without water,” she added.

Demand for Diesel Generators Amid Disaster Caused By Climate Change

Because of slow restoration efforts and many people not being comfortable with lifting water manually and spending days without electricity, diesel generators (DG sets) gained enormous importance.

As people looked for DG sets for lifting water to overhead tanks, to charge battery-packed inverters, to run fans and air conditioners to beat the heat, the hiring rates per hour suddenly surged from Rs 500 to Rs 1,500, even to Rs 2,000 rupees in many cases.

“The demand was such that suddenly the city saw hundreds of DG sets being transported around Bhubaneswar from lane to lane,” observed a local businessman Prasanna Kumar Parida.

However, Bijay Kumar Maharana, 50, of Salia Sahi area is happy that the government has supplied them with a DG set free of any hiring cost, but they need to refill fuel themselves. It’s ironic that while disasters like Fani are said to be linked with global warming and climate change, the cyclone-affected city of Bhubaneswar had to ultimately fall back on diesel generators to keep daily life running.

Outrage At Govt For Neglect

While the residents of Bhubaneswar managed to get through their days initially, despite the inconveniences, they soon started to run out of patience with the authorities, said Akshaya Sahu, a local.

“Such callous approach by any government during such bad times cannot be expected or tolerated. People have started coming to the roads now in protest of the delay in restoration work. Things will only only get worse if the administration doesn't wake up soon and act promptly,” he remarked.

Delay in restoration work reflects gross unpreparedness and inefficiency on the part of the administration in Bhubaneswar, said advocate Sushant Rath.

This piece first appeared on The Quint.

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