International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team is on the ground in India following Cyclone Phailin, a catastrophic storm roughly the size of Hurricane Katrina that struck the country’s eastern coast on October 12. Immediately after the storm International Medical Corps mobilized an emergency response to provide critical lifesaving interventions in the hardest-hit areas of Odisha state – and through mobile medical units serving two relief camps has provided 393 medical consultations to date.
International Medical Corps has been assessing the needs of residents, as well as families who were displaced in the flood-affected districts of Balsore and Mayurbhanj of northern Odisha State, which has received continuous rain since the cyclone made landfall. The Emergency Response Team, with ChildFund International in India, will also be assessing the humanitarian needs in other affected districts in southern Odisha State that were directly in the path of Cyclone Phailin.
District health authorities were overwhelmed by the flood and have asked International Medical Corps for at least 10 mobile clinics to cover the district for at least the next two weeks. There has been an increase in upper respiratory infections and skin diseases, and a steep increase in cases of diarrhea, as the water supply has been contaminated and relief camps are overcrowded with poor sanitation conditions. In addition to emergency medical care, survivors are likely to be in immediate need of non-food items like blankets, tents, stoves, hygiene kits, as well as water purification equipment. Over the long-term, International Medical Corps anticipates that sanitation, food security and livelihood services will be needed.
Authorities put the death toll from Cylone Phailin at 30 – far fewer than had been feared – but said more than 12 million people were affected by the storm. The cyclone and floods left an estimated 200,000 people stranded in northern Odisha State. Approximately 580,000 people in Balasore district alone are affected by the flood, and 611 villages have been completely marooned. In the storm’s wake, the destruction of standing crops has been massive, and hundreds of thousands face returning to the damage or destruction of their homes due to flooding.
“People were evacuated mostly to public institutions like schools and hospitals. They need food, shelter, water, sanitation,” says Dr. Santhosh Kumar, an orthopedic surgeon who worked with International Medical Corps in Libya and is helping lead its response in India. “The government is working really hard but they’re not able to provide all the things that people need.”
Joining the International Medical Corps team with Dr. Santhosh is Dr. Ashok Sharma, a public health expert who served as a member of its response team in Darfur and Iraq, and has more than 25 years of experience managing response teams and supervising health and nutrition-related response efforts at local, national and international levels.
International Medical Corps anticipates needs for services in health, water supply, sanitation and hygiene, food security for a period of at least three months. The emergency response team is working with humanitarian partners, including ChildFund International, to provide support to those affected by Cyclone Phailin.
International Medical Corps has been a first responder to numerous natural disasters in Asia, including the tsunami in Japan two years ago, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.