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A Report on Tsunami Relief Efforts by Bhoomika Trust, Chennai (30/01/05)


In the wake of the December 2004 Tsunami that devastated vast swathes of coastal Asia, including Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, Bhoomika Trust has been coordinating relief efforts from Chennai, linking up with civil society and governmental efforts in the worst-affected districts of Nagapattinam (Nagai), Cuddalore, Kanyakumari, Karaikal (Pondicherry), and coastal villages near Chennai and Kalpakkam. Bhoomika has also been taking on the role of facilitating information exchange among diverse players in the field, including grass roots community organizations, NGOs, business houses, and the Tamil Nadu government, and has been coordinating with other organizations in providing input to policy-makers with regard to the shelter and rehabilitation needs of the affected communities.

Supplies Leaving Chennai

On December 26, 2004, within hours after the Tsunami hit, our first response was to provide packets of cooked food and water to people in distress in and around Chennai. Shortly thereafter, learning from past relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters such as the Gujarat earthquake, we stopped supplying cooked food and discouraged the collection of used clothes, and instead started to put together kitchen and provision kits as well as new clothes and vessels, which were distributed throughout the affected districts.

Arriving in Chemmanancheri
Arriving in Chemmanancheri

With the generous and wholehearted support of many individuals and organizations, Bhoomika has to date been able to supply 10-day dry ration kits to over 5,500 families, including 3,600 kitchen kits and 2,000 stoves, with the beneficiary communities identified based on the needs coming in on a daily basis from the affected districts. In addition to these items, we also distributed medicines, toiletries, blankets and first aid kits, and coordinated the delivery of earthmoving equipment and light towers for the clearance of bodies and debris; 'Cellrich' chemical for body decomposition; water/water purification tablets for the Andamans; and boots and other raingear to help in relief work in the fragile Gulf of Mannar preserve. In almost all cases (except the Andamans), supplies were personally accompanied by our volunteers in order to ensure that they reached the intended communities and that the distribution was equitable.

Thank You Card from a Family


Thank You Card from a Family

Providing relief and rehabilitation assistance to the large numbers of Tsunami-affected coastal communities is, of course, an immensely complicated and challenging task. Our focus, as a facilitating and planning organization, has therefore been to promote constant communications and complete transparency, both of which are vital to maximize effectiveness and minimize duplication of effort. With this in mind, Bhoomika took the initiative to organize a series of information sharing meetings to assess the magnitude of the disaster, take stock of relief and rehabilitation efforts, brainstorm and suggest policy measures based on the needs emerging from the ground and, most importantly, create a platform where diverse actors in this process can forge partnerships. Over 400 individuals and 100 community-based organizations (including fisher folk groups), women's groups, NGOs, corporates, international donor agencies, government representatives, and others have been attending these meetings.

Stoves and Mats on Arrival
Stoves and Mats on Arrival

One of Bhoomika's focus during relief has been to go the extra mile to reach under-served communities, and to bring issues of inequity to the attention of the state machinery as well as to other NGOs. For example, our field teams verified reports of discrimination faced by some Dalit hamlets in receiving relief material and brought this to the notice of district officials, NGOs, and the Relief Commissioner. We have also been locating and sending relief supplies to other isolated communities (e.g. a group of Irula tribal families near Chennai).

Debriefing Returning Volunteers
Debriefing Returning Volunteers

We have taken special interest in women's and children's issues. We have been working hard to fulfill the special needs of women, and are currently working on providing children's school supplies to supplement books and uniforms being issued by the government. We have also been actively participating in policy-making efforts and in preparing 'train-the-trainer' programs on counseling, and have been contributing volunteers as well as written materials to support the mammoth task ahead. (WHO/UNICEF are targeting over 3,000 trained counselors!) In addition to all of these efforts, we have also been providing back office support to the NGO Resource Center in Nagai, including supply of communication tools, computers, volunteers, etc.

Net Repair
Net Repair

Our deep-rooted belief in the need for transparency and accountability has resulted in a policy of open and instant communications. Our team has prepared updates on the progress of the relief effort in Tamil Nadu, and made available minutes of meetings facilitated by us and attended by our field teams. Reports and pictures brought back by our volunteers who accompanied supplies to villages are also available.

Damaged Boat
Damaged Boat

Our current priority is to define our involvement in the long-term rehabilitation phase, where community development and livelihood restoration of fishing and other communities will be the primary focus. We are presently working on plans for possible intervention in one or more areas such as psycho-social support, schools and education, shelter reconstruction, livelihoods, and disaster management pilot programs. As much of this work is dependent upon clearly stated policies from the Tamil Nadu Government, and the level of support that it plans to provide, we plan to wait for a few more days for further clarity (and for additional government orders), before we finalize our own plans. Some of the possible areas of Bhoomika's engagement, depending upon funds availability, may include supporting rehabilitation and shelter construction in a 'model' village habitat near Nagapattinam; support livelihood restoration near Kanyakumari (boats and nets, in possible partnership with the fishing federations); school construction in Akkaraipettai or another locale; and join civil society-driven disaster management pilot programs. We plan to communicate our plans to all of our donors and well-wishers within the next few days.

Interim Shelter by SIFFS Tarangambadi
Interim Shelter by SIFFS Tarangambadi

We take this opportunity to thank all those who have contributed in cash and kind to Bhoomika's efforts, and we look forward to their continuing support as we continue to do our part to restore normalcy to the hundreds of thousands of people who were struck by the devastating Tsunami. We do hope that together all of us can use this opportunity to improve the ability of coastal communities to respond to future disasters and to improve livelihood options available to them.

Broken Catamaran
Broken Catamaran

(Bhoomika Trust was formed in the aftermath of the Gujarat Earthquake in 2001 to assist with relief and rehabilitation efforts. Since the commencement of our relief and rehabilitation efforts following the December 26 Tsunami, Bhoomika has received Rs 85 lakhs in donations and has spent approximately Rs 35 lakhs in the purchase and delivery of relief supplies. We believe that an additional Rs 50-80 lakhs may be in the pipeline from other donors. This does not include massive amounts of donated rations and supplies received from Chennai and other parts of India.)

For more information please call 094444-51267 or 044-5204-1505

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