In December 2015, after the heaviest rains in a century, flooding in the Tamil Nadu region of India was declared a 'calamity of severe nature' by the state's Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa. Around 280 people died and more than 400,000 were displaced by a month of high winds and record rainfall that formed in a tropical depression over the Bay of Bengal.

The state capital Chennai, formerly Madras, recorded over 300 mm of rainfall in just 24 hours, and the consequent flooding forced people to evacuate their homes and businesses halting all major transportation links converging on the city.

The flood waters receded relatively quickly, but with the majority of the population living in rural areas, and agriculture the mainstay of life for many, the worst affected people from the flooding are those least able to access support and information.

Some of the children affected by the floods

Working with communities

Our partner Feba India is in the field assisting with the aftermath of the disaster. Working alongside communities who are dealing with the trauma of deaths of loved ones, disease, hunger, depression and dispossession, Feba India is producing radio programmes in the Tamil language to aid those most affected by the floods.

Desperate for information

Low-caste or Dalit families have been the hardest hit. Although caste-based discrimination was officially banned in the mid 1950s, low-caste Indians still face prejudice and exclusion. Dalit families often live in low-lying areas in huts constructed of mud and thatch, and with vast acreages of agricultural land damaged and around 3,500 cattle lost in Tamil Nadu, people are desperate for information on food supplies, basic facilities and livelihoods. 

By bringing communities together, people who struggle to access web-based government services are using radio to give and receive support.

Emotional support

Michael from Feba India, trained in First Response Radio, and his colleague Johnson, are working with partners and volunteers to collect information from flood-stricken victims. People experiencing disaster have many questions; and as Johnson said: "Most of the people I met were seeking emotional support for their losses. They were traumatised; they have never experienced anything as extreme as this before."

Johnson recording programmes in the community

Programme content

Feba India’s special 15 minute programmes include counselling and psychosocial assistance, presenting talks by experts, interviews with locals, and entertainment with relevant songs. They aim to bring communities together, so that by hearing each other's stories, and by having access to reliable advice and counselling, people who are struggling to access government support will start to receive help from neighbours, and be encouraged to offer help in turn. The programmes will also build awareness and preparedness of the audience for any future natural disaster.

Local partnership

In addition to their scheduled content, the Feba India team are broadcasting the post-disaster programmes on SW. Feba India are also partnering with a local NGO in order to broadcast the programmes via an FM station situated close to the affected communities. 

Follow up

People experiencing disaster have lots of questions. Some just want to know where they will get food for their next meal or when can they return to their home, but after the immediate shock other questions arise - "does the God hate us and punish us with this flood?” or “is there a God who will help me at this time?". Feba India's follow-up team is ready to help people with basic relief information as well as to offer a place where they can explore such questions.

Most of the people I met were seeking emotional support for their losses. They were traumatised; and they have never experienced anything as extreme as this before.

Support emergency radio

Radio can be a very powerful tool as part of an emergency response. The work in Tamil Nadu is the most recent example but we know there will be more. Feba is committed to exploring creative ways in which we can support both immediate and longer term plans to assist affected communities in future. Please join with us in this vital work – your prayers and gifts would be greatly appreciated.

Published: Friday 8th Jauary 2016