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Perspective
January 05, 2005
Situation report (05-01-2005)
This report is based on the latest field visits by Bhoomika volunteers to villages near Chennai, Pondicherry, Cuddalore, and Nagapattinam; their observations at the NGO Coordination Meeting of January 4th at the Nagai Collectorate; a visit to the Cuddalore Collectorate; and telephonic input from other sources on the ground. This updates some of the important issues that came up at the January 2nd Information Exchange Meeting in Chennai, as documented in our report, Seven Days Later... in Tamlinadu. Please check the report here.

We are sharing this assessment of the latest situation in Tamilnadu Tsunami-affected areas with a wide audience, with the sincere hope that this may be of help in channeling the overwhelming support from all over India and other parts of the world into more productive avenues. (There have been numerous reports of unproductive efforts by well-meaning groups--inevitable, perhaps, when there are as many as 160 organizations of various kinds in the area--which may be placing undue pressure upon the affected communities, and upon NGOs and the district authorities on the ground, who are trying to prioritize and organize relief and rehab efforts under very difficult circumstances.)

Please keep in mind that this is only one group's perspective, and there are sure to be other points of view from the affected areas. For Questions or Comments, please contact Raju Rajagopal at rajagop@pacbell.net or call Bhoomika Trust at 044-5204-1505 or 094444-51267, or e-mail us at bhoomikaindia@yahoo.co.in, especially if you wish to be added to our mailing list.

Important Note:
Our earlier e-mail forwarding the Interim Shelter Policy on behalf of the Nagapattinam NGO Coordination Group was inadvertently sent out with all the email addresses as CC (instead of BCC). Please send your responses, if any, to either Bhoomika, or to only specific individuals.

Bhoomika Observations:

The need for Emergency Relief has come to an end for the most part. Several un-served or under-served pockets have been identified, and relief and medical supplies have been delivered to them over the last 48 hours by several organizations. In fact, there are examples of multiple groups coming to the aid of the same community, e.g. one question raised at the Nagai Coordination Meeting was the need for a mechanism to preclude the possibility of different medical teams giving shots to the same people! Our volunteers report some people completely unaffected by the disaster trying to garner or corner supplies.
NGOs are pushing the government to formally announce the end of the Relief Phase, so that donor organizations do not keep dumping supplies in villages. This is to ensure that communities begin to get into the 'rehabilitation' mind-set, and to ensure that donors get OUT of the 'relief and charity' mind-set. Also, one can't underestimate the possibility of resentment building among other poorer communities unaffected by the Tsunami, who are seeing the massive levels of aid going mainly to one community (we have already seen some signs of this). We would urge prospective donors to be patient for a few days and evaluate how they can be of assistance in the massive rehabilitation phase yet to come. Starting with an interim shelter phase, which the NGOs are hoping will be clearly defined by the government in a way that the Government-NGO community partnership roles are clearly delineated (e.g. who finances, who supplies material, who overseas, and who actually builds interim shelters). Please check out the Interim Shelter Policy recommendation from NGOs (link) in Nagapattinam, which has now been formally submitted to the T.N. Government.
In order to have some semblance of control over hundreds of relief trucks going into villages, some without any clear destinations, the local authorities have instituted some procedures. We are told that these procedures are not meant to stop supplies to the needy, but to reduce chaos and duplication by asking supply trucks to first register themselves with local authorities, with a copy of the inventory (e.g. at DRDA, District Rural Development Authority in Cuddalore), and to get a proper ID badge or token from them.
For those without a clear destination, dropping off supplies at the NGO Coordination Center at the Nagai and other Collectorates may be a better option than delivering them to places where the needs may have already been met, and face the risk of supplies falling into local politicians or power brokers' hands. Another alternative is to deliver supplies to regional centers being run by NGOs like AID and SIFFS, who can then systematically evaluate the needs of the community in their areas and deliver them to those in greater need.
Some international relief workers are arriving unannounced, with skills entirely inappropriate for this disaster assistance. As community workers emphasized in the Sunday meeting in Chennai, the immediate needs are: Volunteers willing to roll up sleeves and clear debris and dead bodies (as the military is doing in some places, and Dalits, NGO volunteers, and even some corporate employees are doing in other places); Women volunteers with Tamil skills, who are willing to stay with communities for some time, acting as companions to bereaved women; and Organizational support to NGOs and the NGO Coordination Center, to record and transcribe minutes (even here, knowledge of Tamil is preferred); and back office support to install IT systems in a hurry, to enter data (e.g. surveys being conducted by various groups), to maintain databases, and to communicate with other coordination points such as Chennai, Pondicherry, etc. Another need that has been expressed are Tamil speaking (preferably women) volunteers to serve as data gatherers in a possible NGO lead comprehensive damage assessment survey.
"You ask for bread and you get a bakery," was one observation heard today that aptly describes some of groups who, in their well-intentioned desire to help, are offering anything from advanced power intensive water-making machines from the air, to advanced therapy techniques, to a planeload of milk, to disaster management training courses, and even scuba divers! As we heard in the Sunday meeting, the need to help may already be overwhelming the need for help. There are groups with loaded trucks and volunteers ready to go to the affected areas from various cities, but without a clue as to where they are headed, and what they are going to do to help. We are getting many calls that fall in this category, and our advice is: "Please do not go now, but wait for a few days until the shelter and rehabilitation needs are better defined, which will surely require a lot of help. If you must go, please be ready to plunge into debris clearing work, or link up first with someone already on the scene who knows exactly how and where you can help, or with those who may need to be relieved after several days of hard work.
Some of the Needs coordinated by Bhoomika since the January 2nd meeting will give some idea of the latest needs:
  • More tippers and volunteers to clear debris (some groups were willing to clear debris, provided they did not come in contact with bodies.)
  • Water purification tablets and 2 tons of water for hospitals in the Andamans, which was coordinated with the Air Force at Tambaram
  • More preassembled rations kits and vessel kits for villages near Karaikal, Pulicat, Kalpakkam, and Pondy
At Bhoomika we are CURRENTLY organizing:
100 Cell phones and SIM cards for volunteers working in the relief efforts
Financial, IT, and human resources for back office support, and damage and needs assessment surveys
Large quantities of disinfectant for to use in post-cleanup of debris and bodies in villages (has already been sourced by TTK in the UK)
Women's undergarments
Rehabilitation of Villages : NGOs are strongly advising the government against allowing the concept of 'adopting' villages, which carries certain patronizing implications that drive the approach towards rebuilding and rehabilitating the communities (based on experiences from other disasters, where there were even some attempts to change the names of 'adopted' villages to donor-friendly names!) They are urging that the government invite groups to take 'responsibility' for certain villages in an organized manner, and in consultation with the ommunity--more as a long-term partnership. We hope that this and other similar issues will also be spelled out soon in a recommendation to the government.
Rehabilitation of Livelihoods: Continuing discussions with the fishing community indicates that the approach to restoration of lost crafts and nets is likely to be quite complicated. Any discussion of replacing lost or damaged catamarans could have huge supply and environmental implications (one fishing group reported that 35,000 out of 50,000 catamarans--cost of Rs. 15 to 20,000--may have been lost or damaged.) On the other hand, any plan to replace catamarans with motorized fiber glass boats (cost of Rs. 85,000 and are made in several parts of the South) could have huge financial and sourcing supply implications (the same fishing source reported that there were 2,500 motorized boats before the Tsunami.) Also, we are told that there are ten different types of fishing nets used in Tamilnadu, based on the time of the year. We mention these notes, not unverified by Bhoomika, only to underscore that hurrying to donate boats or catamarans or nets, without a proper Needs Assessment, dove-tailed the policy and compensation plan by the government may be unproductive and disruptive. Also, given the enormous coverage that the plight of the affected fishing communities is getting in the press, we would like to note that there are a significant number of non-fishing villages which are also affected, and whose livelihood and rehab needs may be vastly different.
Desire to Seek Alternative Livelihoods: We have also heard instances of fishermen, already frustrated in recent years by what we are told is the diminishing catch in the seas, who may be looking at this disaster as an opportunity to seek alternative livelihoods. This certainly adds another dimension to the rehab plans, turning the age old adage, "Don't give them fish; teach them how to fish" on its head. In this instance, relief agencies have not only NOT given them any fish (but lots of rice and dhal and sambar powder!) over the last ten days, but we may have to teach some of them not to fish!
For Bhoomika Trust
Raju Rajagopal
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