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Indian dioceses struggle to help millions of cyclone victims

Diocesan teams face a severe financial crunch as Covid-19 relief work has almost emptied their coffers

Indian dioceses struggle to help millions of cyclone victims

People walk along a damaged shoreline after Cyclone Yaas hit India's eastern coast in the Bay of Bengal on May 27. (Photo: AFP)

Catholics in India are mobilizing resources to help millions of people affected by a severe cyclonic storm which ravaged the eastern coastal areas of West Bengal and Odisha states last week.

Cyclone Yaas on May 26 damaged more than 300,000 houses and displaced about 10 million people, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said after an initial survey.

Calcutta Archdiocese based in state capital Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) has pressed all its departments to attend to the needs of suffering people, said Father Franklin Menezes, who directs the archdiocesan social work department.

“We have come across thousands of families who have lost everything in the cyclonic storm and are left with nothing other than the clothes they put on,” Father Menezes told UCA News on May 28.

Archdiocesan teams are in the field to identify the worst affected families, he said, adding that “millions have lost their means of livelihood and close to half a million lost their homes in the storm and rains.”

As the government had moved 1.5 million people from coastal areas before the cyclone, only one death has been reported.

Many houses were also partially submerged, rendering them useless even after water recedes

Neighboring Odisha state was also badly hit, with the cyclone killing three people and displacing more than half a million.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has announced seven days of free rations for victims of the calamity.

“Since the government had evacuated more than 650,000 people from the coastal areas to safety, there were only three deaths,” said Father Lijo George, director of social work in Odisha’s Balasore Diocese.

In Odisha too, thousands lost their mud houses when rainwater destroyed them after powerful winds blew away their roofs.

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“Many houses were also partially submerged, rendering them useless even after water recedes,” Father George told UCA News on May 28.

“People are left with nothing to eat now as all their stored grain was lost in the storm and floodwater. The seawater also destroyed standing crops. It is not possible to cultivate so long as the saltiness of the seawater remains in the land.” 

The priest said the Church’s priority is to provide sanitary items and clean water to people as the government has promised to distribute food for a week.

“The diocese is also trying to collaborate with all like-minded people to restore their lives,” he added.

Diocesan officials also admitted that they face a severe financial crunch

Another cyclone-affected diocese, Baruipur in the southeastern part of West Bengal, is also struggling as “the situation is very bad,” said its social work director Father Parimal Kanji.

The priest told UCA News on May 28 that their teams are in the field to assess the situation and preparing to do whatever possible to help the people.

Diocesan officials also admitted that they face a severe financial crunch as Covid-19 relief work has almost emptied their coffers.

Many people who used to generously contribute during calamities have also lost their income because of repeated Covid-19 lockdowns and slow businesses, diocesan officials said.

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