Article by Kalika Bro-Jorgensen.On the morning of 3 August a small team of field assistants and Fellows (village mobilisers) set off to survey the damages of cyclone Komen in Falam Township, Chin State.
“The terrain was really bad – muddy and plenty of leeches. Everyone got drenched walking the five to 10 miles between each village. All bridges had collapsed so they had to find big logs along the path to cross the streams. One Fellow hurt the wrist, another injured the leg, and they all reported body pains afterwards,” said Pi Zirthan Hnuni, project director with HLDO.
Massive landslides in remote and mountainous Chin State had destroyed hundreds of houses, and closed most roads following cyclone Komen. A state of emergency had been declared on 31 July.
42 of 60 villages ActionAid works with were affected – most severely in Hakha, Thantlang, Matupi, Paletwa and Falam townships. The road condition and lack of cell phone reception made it extremely difficult for ActionAid’s local partner organisations, HLDO and GREEN, to contact Fellows, not to mention conducting needs assessments and distributing aid.
“We decided to initiate a relay race, which was our only chance to reach the affected villages in time, since most roads were inaccessible,” said Pi Zirthan Hnuni.
Three field assistants from HLDO and a few Fellows from nearby villages left the office in Rihkhawdar on motorbikes. When they reached Conghoihvillage, they split up in smaller groups and continued on foot. In each village the team reached, one member stayed behind to conduct a needs assessment and provide emergency information, while the local Fellow joined the team and walked onwards to the next villages.
“The Fellows were very willing to participate. We have a traditional concept of self sacrifice in Chin State called Tlawngngaihna. We call our Fellows Thalai – self sacrificing youth – a term they have come up with themselves. They are happy that they can help people, and they have received the necessary training” saidPi Zirthan Hnuni.
As the field assistants returned home they brought assessments from each affected village. The main needs were food, clean water, shelter, mosquito nets and reconstruction of roads and bridges and homes.
The affected villages mostly cultivate cash crops such as corn and tobacco, which had rotted because of the weather conditions. The villagers usually purchase rice and other staple foods from Rihkhawdar, but after the cyclone they had not been able to access the market. Also, most roofs had flown away in the cyclone, and a few houses had been destroyed.
After the relay race, HLDO hired a truck and the Fellows loaded it with rice, salt, cooking oil, soap, tin sheets for roofs, and nails for reconstructing roofs and bridges. The truck went to two villages along the main road from where the aid was distributed on foot. HLDO also plans to support seeds and equipment so the affected villages can resume farming.
“We cannot give aid to everyone so we had asked the villagers to help determine which families were most vulnerable,” saidPi Zirthan Hnuni.
A women-led task force has been formed to ensure women’s participation and leadership in the emergency response. Further, a gender check-list and monitoring and evaluation matrix are used to ensure and assess the impact of disaster on women and Gender Based Violence and Women’s information centres are to be formed in each affected village.