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News & Events
Focus on rehabilitation - NGOs
By R.K. Radhakrishnan - The Hindu, Chennai, Jan. 2.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that have significant experience in extending relief and rehabilitation to victims of natural disasters today requested at a meeting here that the State Government announce a date for stopping relief work and start focussing on rehabilitation.

A meeting of non-governmental organisations in progress in Chennai on Sunday.  Photo: K. V. Srinivasan
A meeting of non-governmental organisations in progress in
Chennai on Sunday. - Photo: K. V. Srinivasan

"People do not want to live on charity. Because of their helplessness they accept food and other things given to them initially. But slowly they get used to it. Hence the Government should decide when it should stop relief operations," said Sushma Iyengar of Abhiyan from Bhuj, who had engaged in relief work after the Latur and Bhuj earthquakes.

"The more free food you pump in, the more dependence you create. You need to announce a date for closure of relief," said Gagan Sethi of Jan Vikas, Ahmedabad. There should be a grievance redressal machinery right from the village level where people could approach when the damage assessment process begins. "After Latur there were four levels of assessment of damage. In Bhuj this was reduced to three. The fewer the levels, the better it is," said Mr. Sethi.

He suggested appointment of an Ombudsman in each of the affected areas so that the affected could get in touch with him/her to seek redressal of their complaints on assessment of losses.

"From the Gujarat experience what we have learnt is that the mistakes made in the initial 25 days tend to get repeated. The need to help overwhelms the need for help," said Ms. Iyengar. She said that very few organisations and volunteers were actually concentrating on talking to people. Right now, hundreds of people were walking in and out of the affected villages each day. This could create shock and anger, she said. "We need people to be in villages for some length of time and merely talk to them and listen to them. They don't need to be counsellors," she said. Women volunteers were required in equal number for this task.

After the Latur and Bhuj disasters there was a surfeit of organisations and business houses that wanted to adopt villages and areas. This, according to the Gujarat NGOs, was a bad way to go about the task of rebuilding and reconstruction. "Adoption should not be rushed. Partnership is a better way... language at these times sets the mood for the things that follow," she said.

The organisations that participated in the meeting organised by the Bhoomika Trust include Christian Counselling Centre, Vellore; Abhiyan/KVMS from Gujarat; NIMHANS from Bangalore; IIT-Madras; Indians for Collective Action, U.S.A.; Association for India's Development, U.S.A.; The Banyan, SMILE and Samanvaya, all based in Chennai, ActionAid, People's Watch and SIFFS Tamil Nadu Fishermen's Society.

The Puthiya Tamizhagam president, K. Krishnasamy, who had set up medical camps in some of the affected areas said that as much as 90 per cent of the people had one health problem or the other. In a single camp, he had come across 200 cases of indigestion, possibly because of the supply of stale food. Better coordination was needed between the NGOs working in the affected areas and the Government, he added.

C.V. Shankar, Officer on Special Duty to coordinate with NGOs and donors, said that if NGOs had a problem in storage or transport, they could hand over the materials to the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation. (Ph: 2481 2404 - Virugambakkam). A senior officer from Gujarat, V. Thiruppugazh, has arrived to coordinate efforts at the Government level. Efforts were on to set up digital radio receiving stations in many of the affected areas. If the NGOs wanted to communicate to all the affected, this could be done from his office in the next few days, he added.

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