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Perspective
January 24, 2005
One month later (24/01/2005)
Two more days, and it will a month since the devastating Tsunami hit the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. For many volunteers engaged in the relief effort, this past week-end was perhaps their first break with families and friends, and the dizzying sequence of events since Dec 26th now seems like a long blur. In the mean time, a large number of organizations remain on the ground, poised to begin reconstruction efforts, even as many more from across the world have come and gone. Hundreds of stories have been written about the victims and about the relief efforts, both positive and negative, millions of dollars and thousands of crore of rupees have been raised in the name of Tsunami, and tens of Government Orders have been issued in support of relief and rehabilitation. Yet, for those whose lives were rudely interrupted by the Tsunami, the road to normalcy seems distant. And, as if to remind us of this reality, news of the latest quake in Indonesia this morning had sent psychological tremors along the coast Tamil Nadu within hours!

Relief and Rations
For most of the 'Tsunami-swallowed' villages along the coast the relief phase has ended, and most NGOs have stopped sending in relief supplies. The government has issued special ration cards for the affected people, and the Public Distribution System is expected to kick in soon. On the flip side, many partially affected communities (especially in and around Chennai) continue to claim that no relief has reached them, and it is now becoming impossible to distinguish between those directly affected by the Tsunami and those who live on the edge even during normal times, and who have surely been affected by the after-waves of the Tsunami: e.g. women engaged in secondary activities like selling fish and running small businesses (potti kadais), who have lost their business assets as well as their customers. These people are not eligible to any compensation, and even those who lived in flooded homes as tenants have had to cede the financial compensation to the owners, who live elsewhere and were often unaffected by the calamity. We are told that some of these women are facing pressures from loan-sharks, who had 'invested' in their businesses.

In a demonstration of the globalized world of instant communications, we heard from a highly agitated woman from France, accusing India of 'starving our poor and letting them die.' (We later found out that the French Press has been writing highly critical stories about the relief efforts.) When pressed for more specifics, she directed us to a specific address in Nochikuppam, near the Marina Beach. Bhoomika promptly sent out our volunteers to Nochikuppam, where they were immediately mobbed by 3,000 families demanding rations and money. Elaborate lists of affected people were promptly presented-perhaps only about 200 to 300 are directly involved in fishing and most others are into secondary fishing or other activities.

To make matters worse, it seemed to us that political parties were already beginning to 'fish in these troubled waters.' Given the many questions to our surrounding the situation we have decided to not actively outre limited capabilities of Bhoomika and the chaotic and fishing communities have immediate rations for the most part, a few daring ones have started going back to the sea, motors are beginning to get repaired, but for the most part, they are waiting for Nevertheless, Bhoomika continues to look out for pockets of families still in distress, and upon direct verification of their needs by our volunteers, has been sending out relief material to them.

Averting a Post-Tsunami Disaster for other Charitable Causes
We end this report by sharing the concern that charitable organizations who have been serving weaker sections of society all-year-round could face a financial crisis, should their regular patrons-in their eagerness to support post-Tsunami efforts-abandon them this year. It would be most unfortunate if funds far in excess of the needs of immediate Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation are tied up in various Tsunami-specific accounts, potentially leading to situations like after the Gujarat earthquake, when some agencies had to either go thorough the administrative nightmare of going back to every individual donor to seek their permission to use left-over funds for other long-term community work, or had to face the prospect of returning the funds to the donors!

Donors can help avert such a scenario, by considering the following:

If you are planning to support the Tsunami work of an organization that you know well, give them the latitude to use the funds for broader community work in the Tsunami-affected areas.
If you haven't already committed your funds, please wait a few more days until the rehabilitation plans and organizations involved, becomes clearer. And please do not restrict organizations to any geographical area or for any specific project.
Consider funding the community. This may be a development and education fund. and is being mooted by several organizations. Such a fund is soon to be established.

Donors could help avert such a situation.It is with the objective of averting such a situation that we offer the following considerations to potential donors…

If you can, please do not restrict your donations to just one geographical area or to any one project.
Please give the broadest possible mandate to your beneficiary organizations to use the funds for broader community use ie. to use the funds to help communities in distress (this may go beyond just rehabilitation).

The latest situation
Orphaned children and adoptions and counseling
Please see the government policy, which we are told has been posted at www.tn.govt.in.Our understanding is that orphaned children are being cared for in government-run shelters; many experienced child-care organizations are on the spot working with official agencies. The government has in principle adopted some of the principles brought forth by NGOs that in-community care should be encouraged, as opposed to a rush to adopt from outside the community. But please read the document and draw your own conclusions, as Bhoomika is not an expert in this matter. We also understand that UNICEF/UNDP may have taken overall responsibility for some of the work like counseling (unverified).
Education
We understand that the government has already issued new text books, and that other groups are being encouraged to supply school bags, water bottles, etc. Many schools will open after Pongal (Jan 13-14), which also means that displaced people housed in schools and marriage halls will have to be provided temporary shelters very very soon.
Highest priority-interim shelters
NGOs and Government officials appear to be moving along the principles stated in the Interim Shelter Policy Recommendation submitted to the government yesterday (e.g. casurina/ thatch construction, community participates in construction, NGOs oversee the work, etc. -document is in this site, if you have not seen it). As yet, there is no official T.N. Government policy on interim shelters, however, efforts are already underway to map our NGO-DONOR partnerships to "take responsibility" village by village, in anticipation of a formal Government Order soon. Assignments are being put up and there seems to be more than adequate interest by various agencies to cover all the affected villages in the Nagai area. The next step might be to hook up these partnerships with corporates who may wish to partner in shelter reconstruction. The consensus, as we mentioned in our January 5th report, is to move away from encouraging the concept of 'adopting' villages, to encouraging partnerships with community groups. Given the great sense of urgency, and to preclude other parties-who do not subscribe to the recommended approach-rushing into build shelters in a haphazard fashion, without community participation, we sincerely hope that the government will issue a policy very soon.
Rehabilitation
Many people are expressing their strong desire to help immediately, even though people on the ground keep stressing that the need for emergency relief has ended, and any further rush to pour in more supplies will only result in duplicated effort, and may in fact drain the much-need energy and resources required for shelters and other rehabilitationilitation needs. (People from all parts of the country continue to call, with trucks already loaded with supplies that are not immediately needed, and are insisting on personally delivering them to the needy!) Our response is: Please save your enthusiasm and resources to help in reconstruction! Please ask people put away funds in pledges and trusts which may be needed within the next few weeks.
Livelihood
Similarly, rushing to buy fishing nets and boats, without a formal needs assessment, may also not be a productive exercise, unless one has already been working with the community, and knows their needs and their losses well. Many people on the ground are working with the fishing communities, as we speak, and just today there was a seminar organized by action aid and Madras Institute for development studies, with the participation of SIFFS (South India Federation of Fishermen), with whom Bhoomika has also been working. We are also being told not to assume that the fishing community merely wishes to get back to their lives as they were pre-Dec 26th. -the community may indeed wish to look at this disaster as an opportunity to solve some of their long-standing issues (such as decreasing catch, unsafe fishing technologies, etc.). Given such complicated issues, we feel that it would be prudent on our part to wait for a few days until the communities assess their losses and needs more methodically. As far as Bhoomika is concerned, we will be pleased to facilitate an information exchange meeting similar to the jan 2nd meeting, which can focus more in depth on all aspects of rehabilitation-this could occur within the next two weeks.
Some of the needs Bhoomika is working on

  • Final phase of rations and other supplies to unserved and undeserved areas
  • Looking for Experienced Procurement Managers at the NGO coordination cell in Nagai to help deal with procurement and pricing issues.
  • Volunteers to assemble ration kits on site at the coordination center in Nagai rather than in places like Chennai (i.e. ship bulk rations from here from now on).
  • 100 cell phones and SIM cards to help volunteers in the field communicate better
  • Storage in Chennai while identifying additional need for CELL RICH chemical to speed up body decomposition (already sent to Nagai and going to Andamans).
  • Large scale disinfectant products waiting in UK to clean up villages and beaches after initial clean-up (will be sent to the South and to Andamans).
  • Back-office support for the NGO coordination center: people, computers, phones, office supplies, wireless hubs, etc.
  • Identifying volunteers for a possible comprehensive damage/ needs assessment: Women, IT skills, minimum of one week on site, etc. are some of the requirements.

This report is based on the latest input from volunteers and NGO coordination cells in the field. Please see our January 2nd and January 5th reports on our web site We understand that the Nagai NGO Coordination Center is about to put up their web site at: www.tsunami2004-india.org

Please look for these web sites and let us minimize direct calls to the field to avoid jamming their lines and let us make full use of coordinating organizations in Chennai and Pondy who can help disseminate information and answer questions about the latest situation on the ground.

For questions or comments, please contact Raju Rajagopal at rajagop@pacbell.net or call Bhoomika Trust at 044-5204-1505 or 094444-51268, or e-mail us at bhoomikaindia@yahoo.co.in, especially if you wish to be added to our mailing list.

For Bhoomika Trust
Raju Rajagopal.
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