On June 16 and 17, 2013, a cloudburst and unprecedented flash floods hit Uttarakhand. 12 out of the state’s 13 districts were affected. Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh saw maximum impact. With houses washed away, many were left homeless. Damages continued to mount due to the landslides. Basic public amenities such as roads and bridges were either severely damaged or cut off, leading to problems of accessibility.
How we helped
In view of the scale of the disaster, SEEDS immediately deployed a response team to assist affected families. Civil society organisations and the government were supplying food items and dry rations. Common shelter places were also being identified. Much of this effort was uncoordinated, making it difficult to assess actual requirements. Two areas of urgent need, however, stood out. Women’s privacy was an issue in the common shelters; and families did not have the required utensils to cook the dry rations being provided.
So that’s what we did. 193 of the most vulnerable families in Rudraprayag district were provided with family tents and utensil sets. Since a majority of school buildings in these areas were also affected, continuing education was another priority. Five schools were provided with tents to function temporarily and sets of utensils to continue mid-day meals.
With roads washed away, transportation was an issue and access restricted. Relief items often had to be taken to the distribution sites by headload. Despite these challenges, the distribution was done in an accountable and coordinated manner.
Schools of all types (private, government and trust-run) had been badly impacted, with some completely washed away. They emerged as the focal point for restoration.
Over the course of the programme, we rebuilt 18 schools and one community centre.
In the first phase, we rebuilt 13 schools and one community centre spread across Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts. In a region highly vulnerable to earthquakes and floods, it was a chance to also demonstrate building techniques.
The buildings were all conceived as low rise, light weight structures with large windows for natural light. Rather than bricks, the walling was done with hollow concrete blocks; providing thermal insulation and reducing the carbon footprint. Colourful designs helped develop a child-friendly learning environment.
Aside from the actual construction, the project delved into social components, building a foundation for DRR in the community. Working with local partner SBMA, village development plans were prepared. 2000 students, teachers and members of the surrounding community were trained on life saving skills, disaster risk reduction and preparedness.
In the second phase, five more schools in Rudraprayag district were rebuilt. These four primary schools and one junior high school were selected considering their remote location. They all serviced multiple villages around their area.
The emphasis on open areas showed how natural elements can enhance the learning experience. Wall paintings were done in each school to brighten up the learning environment and to serve as teaching aids. A small play area was also created for each school. This play equipment built was made using waste material and integrated regional play methods. The innovative designs provided the education department a different model. They are being considered for replication.
In addition to the IEC material and provision of equipment, each school went through a series of orientations on basic risk reduction. Lifesaving forces (search and rescue, first aid, fire safety) were also formed in the neighbouring community with the help of youth volunteers, SMC members and panchayat body.