The earthquake that hit Gujarat on the morning of 26th January left in its wake a trail of death and destruction, leaving a population of close to 100,000 dead and almost that many or more homeless and seriously injured. We, the St. Xavier's Nonformal Education Society (SXNFES), tried our best to do whatever we could to alleviate the misery of those hit by the quake. We joined a broad platform consisting of various players from civil society under the banner of "Citizens' Initiative".
The agencies/individuals involved in this initiative, apart from us, were Ahmedabad Nature Lovers' Association (ANALA); Staff and students of St. Xavier's College, Ahmedabad; Student volunteers from Centre for Environment Planning & Technology (CEPT); Student volunteers from National Institute of Design (NID); doctors; psychiatrists; psychologists; engineers; architects; and others. We carried out relief operations from a base camp set up near village Moti Chirai in Bhachau taluka of Kutch. Till the end of February around 315 volunteers had volunteered their services at the camp. The relief operations lasted till the end of February.
We intend to remain in the area for another 1 - 2 years in order to see the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction through. Plans for this are being worked out. In view of our long term involvement in the area the temporary camp at Moti Chirai has been wound up and a new camp has been set up near village Rajansar in Bhachau taluka on the premises of an Ashramshala run by Gujarat Khet Vikas Parishad.
Activities carried out:
a.. Distribution of relief materials: Since the beginning of the camp regular supplies were being sent to the camp, depending on the need of the people. Till the end of February materials to the tune of Rs. 16,58,617/-had been sent to the camp.
b.. Till the end of the month we had been able to reach out with emergency and medical relief to about 48 villages of Bachau, Anjar and Rapar talukas of Kutch.
c.. Apart from this the team was also involved in carrying out a survey for information regarding relief reaching the people. Surveys regarding castewise distribution of commodities and services through the government and other mechanisms were also carried out. The survey activity was carried out with the following purpose:
d.. To make the distribution easy and equitable;
e.. To analyse the village situation in terms of its caste composition;
f.. To locate the needy families and thus mobilise resources for them.
g.. Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD): A group of volunteers were involved in the assessment of the extent of trauma and possible systems and strategies for its redressal. This was done keeping in mind the most vulnerable groups i.e. single women / widows, orphans and the aged. Based on the experience of relief and rehabilitation after the Orissa super cyclone, some of the NGOs were involved in setting up Sneh Samudaya centres for those who were dispossessed. The idea behind this concept is providing a space for the dispossessed (single women, children who are orphaned by the earthquake, and the aged) to come together and grieve over the death and destruction and find strength to carry on their lives.
The initiative began with Action-Aid (India) being granted the permission to set up 100 Sneh Samudaya shelters in the affected villages in earthquake-ravaged Gujarat. They had been operating from the Moti Chirai camp and were joined in the effort by volunteers of 'Gantar' and 'Campaign Against Child Labour - CACL'. The methodology they employed consisted of visiting the villages, carrying out a feasibility check as to the shelter and its viability and subsequently setting up of the shelters. 17 such shelters have been set up in Bachau and Anjar talukas.
The shelters having been set up they were helped to run them by volunteers from Nirmala Niketan School of Social Work and the Jamia Milia Islamia.
a.. Medical follow up: The injured, who had received specialised medical attention, were being followed up regularly by a team of doctors. One team was stationed at the camp site while another was a mobile unit, visiting villages and treating patients on site.
Prevailing situation and rehabilitation strategy:
Caste and communal discriminations in the distribution of relief is shocking to us as to most others in the general public. In spite of the fact that we have for so long been dealing with the issues of caste discrimination, we had not anticipated such a blatant show of casteism. We had also not expected the government to ignore such incidents, especially at a time such as this. Our experience of relief work provided us with a first-hand evidence of the discrimination being faced by the Dalits, the Kolis and the Muslims in the distribution of relief. Our experiences have also been corroborated by the experiences of other agencies in Kutch. The compensation package (which includes land and cash doles) which has been announced by the government is blatantly inequitous. It compensates differently to persons in different economic categories. The State has itself become a violator of the constitutional guarantee of equality and justice.
Further, compensation and rehabilitation packages and claims for death and damages will necessitate regular interface with bureaucracy. Bureaucracy, which even in the most normal of times is ridden with red-tape and delays, is likely to continue at the same pace and style even in these times. This will certainly aggravate the trauma of the victims who are already trying to cope with death and loss.
In spite of adequate resources being pumped into the area we envisage a paucity of funds as far as the most vulnerable groups, i.e. the SCs, the STs and the minorities are concerned. It is doubtful whether principles of social justice and social equity would be adhered to in the rehabilitation phase; we suspect they would be completely ignored in the whole process. Further marginalisation of the vulnerable groups in the allotment of land (position, quality, access to infrastructure, etc.) is sure to take place. Resettlement and relocation then become a losing proposition for the already poor while becoming opportunities of gain for some others.
In view of this we feel that the rehabilitation phase needs to be closely monitored, especially from the Human Rights perspective.
A strong organisation of the people is also needed which can act as a pressure group vis a vis the government to be able to make the rehabilitation just and equitable.
The immediate and most severe effect of the earthquake has been on people's shelters and livelihoods. Temporary shelters of the kind that have till date been provided (tents, tarpaulin or reinforced plastic sheets) could see them through for a couple of months more (March -April). There is an urgent need for the people to shift from these to shelters of a permanent nature, as these will not be adequate for the monsoon which is beginning from June.
Furthermore, the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation is closely connected with the restoration of livelihoods to the people. Unless this happens any activity remains at the level of temporary relief. The mainstay of the economy in the Bhachau taluka was agriculture, agricultural wage work, work in the salt factories, charcoal making and minor handicrafts. Agriculture and allied activities are suffering because of a lack of water. The tubewells and borewells have suffered extensive damage due to the earthquake and would need major repairs, or as in a number of cases, would have to be installed anew. Apart from this a number of facilities and services such as credit and marketing linkages would need to be provided to get the local economy functioning.
In this scenario we plan to take do the following in order to intervene in the situation.
a.. Providing shelters: We plan to provide shelters to the people which are strong and resilient and can withstand earthquakes and cyclones. In order for this to happen we would undertake dialogue with the communities to obtain their opinion and viewpoint on the model that we plan to propose.
a.. Monitoring of Rehabilitation Rights: A task force would ensure contact with the approx. 45 villages in Bhachau and Rapar, down to the poorest family there, to monitor the ground level reality on how the compensation and rehabilitation packages are faring at the micro level. Processes connected with community organisation and empowerment would be undertaken simultaneously in order to foster autonomy.
a.. Restoration of livelihoods in the villages: We look at restoration of livelihoods in phases. They would be related to:
b.. Agriculture: Providing the people with means and materials to carry on the agriculture related activities.
a.. Agricultural credit for the new crop (seeds, fertilisers, and labour).
b.. Storage of private food stocks: providing plastic containers
c.. Revival of small trades and the crafts
a.. Marketing linkages for the charcoal that is made locally. Its market lies in the industries in the towns like Ahmedabad. Our task includes contacting and setting up linkages with the buyers.
b.. Mobile shops which could service about 1 or 2 villages.
c.. Sewing machines
d.. Restoration of water supply which includes installing borewells anew and providing containers to store water.
e.. Construction is an activity which will be undertaken on a large scale in the area.
a.. An option in this regard would be to form construction cooperatives which could provide the skills as well as the means and materials to carry out the activity.
b.. Clearing of debris from the village: For this we would provide the people with implements to gather and move the debris.
c.. Revival of social infrastructure such as schools and PHCs could also take care of the primary needs of the people as well as provide livelihoods to some persons in the villages.
A tentative list of villages in Kutch selected for rehabilitation intervention is as follows:
BHACHAU: Jadsa, Bandadi, Ner, Vamka, Meghpar
RAPAR: Paghivandh, Dhadadhro, Ramvav, Trambau
Dispersed settlements (not mentioned in Census): Nilpar, Ganeshpura, Bhasvav, Nani Vanoivandh, Lakhavat, Sharanvandh, Karuvandh, Vaneshavandh, Shambuvandh, Kharakuva
For further information and support contact: St. Xavier's Nonformal Education Society at firstname.lastname@example.org