The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cyclone scars Orissa’s mind
A file picture of a mother and her child in cyclone-affected Balasore. (AFP) Debabrata Mohanty

Bhubaneswar, April 28: Almost four years after the supercyclone ravaged the Orissa coast, many survivors are still emotionally disabled, says a report evaluating their psychosocial condition.

The study was conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans), Bangalore, and Action Aid India, a non-government organisation, in the coastal districts of Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara.

“The effect of the disaster was so terrible that people were crying, sobbing, stupefied and numb whereas a few were laughing without any apparent reason in the first three months of the cyclone,” the study says.

“Depression was the predominant mood for most. Some were easily irritable, were getting angry, abusive and trying to hit each other on trivial matters.”

The symptoms were discovered during Sneha Abhiyan, a psychosocial intervention by the NGO in affected areas.

Though things have improved over the years, there are several victims who still experience emotional upheavals and need psychiatric help.

The supercyclone had ripped through Orissa on October 29, 1999, killing about 10,000 people, destroying over a million homes in 12 districts, and inflicting damage worth Rs 20,000 crore.

Immediately after, the government and several NGOs had stepped in with the basic necessities of food and cloth and withdrew after granting compensation and rebuilding houses. But they overlooked the survivors’ need for psychological help.

The study has found that a year after the supercyclone, some victims were suffering dissociative convulsions and high suicidal tendencies.

The youths were found to be more addicted to country liquor and many shirked work and became dependent on relief material.

Almost 30-40 per cent of women and adolescent girls of a specific community were found to have become sexually promiscuous. As many as 54 per cent adults complained of headaches and 44 per cent said they couldn’t sleep soundly.

Psychological morbidity was found to be high among adults, especially women. In ground zero, Ersama, alone, 15 per cent of those diagnosed with post-trauma stress were found to be heading for major depressive disorders.

Nearly 35-45 per cent of the survivors were perpetually scared and suffering from nervousness, queasy stomach and difficulty in thinking.

The study has sounded an alarm for the current level of disability measures high on the World Health Organisation’s disability assessment schedule.

The survivors’ biggest disabilities are being “emotionally affected” and its “interference with life”.

The study concludes that proactive community intervention, including professional support, is necessary to protect the vulnerable after such a disaster.

The study was conducted with a team of evaluators such as Dr R. Srinivasa Murthy, psychiatry professor, Nimhans; Dr Nilamadhab Kar, associate professor of psychiatry, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal; Dr Sharada Swain, associate professor of psychiatry in Puri, and Dr K. Sekar, psychiatric social worker.

Action Aid now plans to carry out similar studies in earthquake- and riot-hit Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir.

“The scope for similar study in Jammu and Kashmir, where decade-long militancy had ruined the social fabric, was also being explored. People need to come out of social depression,” Umi Daniel, regional manager, Action Aid, said.

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