“Workers may take their families with them when they leave”

The large-scale devastation caused by cyclone Phailin in Odisha’s Ganjam district is expected to trigger ‘distress migration’ of hordes of affected people to faraway places such as Chennai, Mumbai, Goa, Surat and Ahmedabad.

Experts on migration and activists working on the ground warned that the flight of workers was imminent from Ganjam, which traditionally sends half a million migrant labourers to Surat and Ahmadabad every year.

“Phailin has hit Odisha coast in October which is usually the month when seasonal migration starts. Now with the cyclone snatching away the livelihood of lakhs of people, most of them being marginal farmers, it is beyond doubt that the exodus is just about to begin,” Umi Daniel, head of Migration Thematic Unit of Aide et Action South Asia, told The Hindu here on Wednesday.

Of Ganjam’s population of over 35 lakh, 5-6 lakh people migrate to distant cities to work as daily wage earners.

The population of cultivators in Ganjam is 2,84,943, the second highest in the State after Balasore.

Mr. Daniel said: “Unlike western Odisha, migrant workers from Ganjam go alone. But with standing crop already under water and damaged by gale, workers may go to other cities with families. This is an indication of distress migration. They will have low bargaining power and be ready to work in distress condition.”

According to a study, migrant workers send remittances worth Rs. 1730 crore annually to the State. Nearly 50 per cent of total remittances flow to Ganjam district.

According to the State government’s assessment, as on October 15, 2812 villages in 22 blocks of Ganjam have been affected. An astounding 15.02 lakh people have been impacted with death figures put at 10 in the district. A total of 2,16,100 ha of crop area and 2,30,000 homes have been affected.

Secretary of the Berhampur-based United Artists Association (UAA) Mangaraj Panda, who has been working with marine fisher folk for decades, said the devastation would only aggravate the situation.

‘Situation grim’

“The damage is unspeakable. About 80 per cent of boats, fishing nets and other implements of marine fishermen have been destroyed and washed into the sea. The situation in 27 fishing villages is very grim,” said Mr. Panda.

“Traditionally 40 per cent migration is reported from the fishing villages. Fisher folk’s destinations are Chennai, Goa and Mumbai. Now after Phailin, the percentage of migration will just get doubled.”

Although the government claims to have undertaken rehabilitation and resettlement immediately, the process will take at least six months. It will be a challenge to cope with the situation in a fairly long time.

Had the district built up its resilience mechanism keeping in mind the prevailing large-scale migration from the region, distress flight could have been checked, Mr. Daniel said.

According to him, the District Disaster Management Plan of Ganjam did not consider the issue of migration.