Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan
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Gujarat - 21 days later
Bangalore - Earthquake Update Appeal No. 9  (26th Feb 2001)
by Raju & Geeta Rajgopal

Key Sections
  • Problems
  • How Can You Help?
  • Lessons Learned From Relief Operations
  • Rehabilitation
  • Orphans/Children
  • Adopting Villages: No! No!! No!!!
  • Livelihood Security
  • Permanent Shelters
  • Summary
    Related Material
    Gujarat Earthquake: Healing the Wounds
    Salient points of the report by Oxfam (India) Trust released on Feb.26

    1. OVERALL:

    From most accounts, the RELIEF phase is almost over--the Collector of Kutch and the NGOs may officially say so in a day or two. No more supplies lying on the roads; material is beginning to reach interior villages; and the government's Public Distribution System (PDS) is finally about to kick in, we are told. Janpath's warehouses have been emptying out almost as quickly as supplies come in from different parts of the country. Abhiyan volunteers, some of whose family members were among the dead and injured, are planning to take a couple of days off to be with their families, prior to getting back to work on the Rehabilitation phase. (Most people seem to feel the necessity for a physical break between the Relief and the Rehab phase. "Otherwise, the relief operations could go on for ever," said one volunteer.)

    2. PROBLEMS:

    This does not mean that everyone has received sufficient food and shelter--at least, not yet. There are still problems. From most newspaper accounts, and our first hand look at one relief camp, there are still fissures along caste and class lines. We are not suggesting overt discrimination by relief organizations, but local customs and power structures may be complicating their work. In some villages, local leaders are apparently determining the distribution of supplies. Also, the reluctance of the middle class to stand in relief lines with the "lower classes," and the reluctance of Dalits to stand in lines with the "upper classes," has been an issue. (When asked why they were personally delivering supplies to the middle class, one volunteer said something like, "You know how proud these people are, they won't stand in lines. The poor people, on the other hand, they can always come to our camp and collect supplies." Notwithstanding these problems, we are convinced that between the government, the NGOs and the religious sector, short-term food supplies will indeed reach most people soon.


    From our own observation, these organizations have done an exemplary job in providing relief, under the circumstances. This sentiment was echoed by several international agencies as well. This is because these organizations have been working in the affected area for years, especially among the poor. Their volunteers know each household in their villages by name, and we were told that Janpath volunteers are physically delivering the One-month Ration Kits to each family on their list. To all those who so generously contributed to the Ration Kit Initiative supported by Indians For Collective Action, California and The Bhoomika Trust, Chennai: contrary to press reports which talk incessantly of relief not reaching the poor, Geetha and I have every confidence that our rations have or will soon reach the needy families.


    We are told that tents, especially larger tents for schools and community centers, are still in SERIOUS SHORT SUPPLY. People are already tired of staying under tarps; they are unable to get schools started; and some of them do not have access to larger spaces for community meetings. ANY ONE WILLING TO PAY FOR or DESPATCH SUCH TENTS (poles can be procured locally), dhurries and chatais (bamboo mats) ARE ENCOURAGED TO DO SO IMMEDIATELY. PLEASE CONTACT SEWA (they need about 50 large tents) and UNNATI at the numbers given below. Suggestions: a. Foreign donors, please do not ship expensive tents. Coordinate with an Indian NGO to purchase canvas tents locally and ship them ASAP, b. If you can't ship tents, ship double-layered canvas cloth, and local NGOs such as UNNATI can have tents custom-stitched in Ahmedabad (provides employment), c. No more tarps, as they won't survive the monsoon! [BHOOMIKA TRUST and ICA California: After paying for the 1,000 ration kits from Chennai (approx Rs. 10 lakhs), we will have Rs. 5-6 lakhs left. Should we invest part of it in supplying tents? We can discuss this later among our e-groups. Also, we can coordinate with the Indian Express people and the Round Table to see if they want to help ship tents.]


    Know the local culture before shipping relief supplies. a. People affected were not looking for cooked puris and chappathis from Tiruchi, or for CARE food packets beyond one or two days! They were looking for foodgrains and water so they could start cooking their own food ASAP, b. Old clothes, definitely a NO, NO. As for new clothes, miniskirts, jeans and sarees, for people who wear gagra/cholis? We were told that boxfulls of inappropriate clothing were still lying in warehouses all across Gujarat (some may have even found their way to markets in Mumbai.)


    While a sense of URGENCY was important to the RELIEF phase, most NGOs and the local government are urging patience while rehabilitation plans are worked out in the coming days and weeks. For those of us from the outside, our appeal is to WAIT, but NOT FORGET (there are a few areas in which we can help immediately, see below).

    Most of the NGOs are beginning to seriously look at plans for long term rehabilitation of the affected people. While there is recognition that only the government and international agencies can come up with the level of funds required for long term rehabilitation, they are at the same time very very skeptical that such aid will reach the needy in a timely or appropriate manner. They point to the experience of Latur and other disasters overseas where it took years before providing permanent houses to the affected. Nonetheless, they are continuing to work closely with the government, while working out their own plans for the rehabilitation phase. Here are some highlights from our conversations:


    NGOs, international organizations such Save the Children, and the RSS, each for their own reason, are asking people to place on hold the rush to seek out kids for adoption! Adoptions are NOT a priority. The focus is to provide trauma counseling, and bring back a certain routine in the lives of the kids, IN THEIR OWN ENVIRONMENT. There seems to be plenty of professional guidance in the area of psychological/trauma counseling (e.g. NIMHANS, Bangalore), however, the need for more Gujarati-speaking counselors has been expressed by several NGOs. (Let us remember that our help in procuring large tents, already mentioned, can directly help the communities restart classes for kids ASAP). Also, SEWA is asking for help in procuring simple playthings such as, play dough, scribble chalk & boards, simple toys, etc. for their 2,000 kids. This can be in cash or kind, but please no barbie dolls or other high-tech dolls. Most of what they need can be procured right here in Ahmedabad.


    As one NGO put it, all the affected villages have been "taken," with more "adopters" than eligible "adoptees." The notion of adopting villages is being decried by the NGOs as well as the Collector. For one, it is very condescending, implying long term dependence, whereas most villagers want to get back to a routine quickly, and want gainful employment. Secondly, it is obvious that the concept of "adoption" is ready-made for all the publicity hogs, who are falling over each other to "adopt" villages, without a clue as to what it is supposed to mean. In our opinion, long term partnerships with local NGOs, who are focusing on livelihood issues, is a more sound concept (see SEWA's priorities below). [Exception: "adopting" a village may be OK if the adopting organization has deep roots in the village, is adopting it with the blessing of the village, and has a clear plan on what they plan to accomplish there.]


    SEWA is not an NGO in a strict sense, but is a Women's cooperative consisting of over 60,000 women. Most of their members have been severely affected by the quake. Nevertheless, their focus today is how they can move their membership from a relief mode to an employment mode. This week, they are providing craft kits to their members, most of whom are craftspeople, so that they can get back to embroidery and start marketing their products ASAP. While it may be hard for many of us to imagine that women who have been so traumatized by the quake would want to be sitting in their temporary shelters knitting all day long, this is EXACTLY what they want to do. Another example of a livelihood security issue is helping salt workers rebuild their damaged salt pans (approx Rs. 30,000 per family of capital expense involved, we are told.) Whether they are craftspeople, or laborers, or salt workers, all they want to do is get back to work. Volunteers who have been wanting to come here in large numbers and "help" should keep in mind that a better option may be to provide moral and financial support from where they are to the large labor pool right here. We don't want to put them out of work, do we? For anyone wanting to focus on long-term livelihood issues, SEWA or UNNATI or ABHIYAN are good places to start. (We are carrying a paper by SEWA on this issue, if you are interested.)


    The government apparently approved a plan by one group two days ago to put up a large number of shelters, with corrugated iron walls and roof-in a place where the temperatures in summer can reach over 130F degrees! NGOs are aghast but not surprised that such things happen, and hence they are taking their own initiative in designing low income, earthquake-resistant structures quickly. We met several knowledgeable people working with the NGOs on this issue. Support to these efforts will go a long way in getting people into more permanent houses. We will provide details of these later. (We are carrying a proposal on shelters from Abhiytan/Janpath if anyone is interested--the plan emphasizes use of local labor in areas such as casting tiles, etc.)


    NEED: More tents (especially larger ones); dhurries/chatais; support for livelihood security (e.g. crafts, salt pans, local labor opportunities); expertise in low-income e/q resistant housing; and MONEY to local NGOs to support these initiatives. [Some NGOs are already seeing the initial hype of financial help fade quickly, with very few checks actually received to date.]

    DO NOT NEED (for now anyway): More village adoptions, general-purpose volunteers, medical supplies, food, doctors, etc.

    Raju & Geetha Rajagopal