Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The paradoxes of being Nepalese

I was hoping that I would not write about this incident, but thought it best to record it, while it is still fresh in my mind. Have a previous post also that can be linked to this one, as that also are incidents which bring mixed emotions...

also read: a nation of contrasts

So, we are visited in Ghana by a Nepalese adventurer, Lok Bandhu Karki, who is cycling around the world and is somewhere in the middle of his trip (57 countries in 4.5 years so far). His target is 113 countries in nine years. So when some of our Nepalese friends here decided to call him for dinner and also invited us, we were naturally excited. What an adventurer. Big rush. Nepalese friends got together for the dinner.

Mr. Lok Bandhu comes in the door, in his daura surwal, with a big traditional Namaste and a folder in his hands. All is well so far.

Then expectant ears over drinks and dinner only heard, from this adventurer, a call for financial support, and we realise that the big folder is not a record of his experiences but a record of the letters of appreciation and the money that he has received so far, 40,ooo + dollars in all. He was not here to meet fellow Nepalese, and tell them of his travels and adventures. He had only come here to ask for money and wanted to pressure Nepalese around the world, whereever he went, into 'pushing' him forward financially, as he, according to himself of course, was a messenger of peace and brotherhood, and was distributing leaflets to this effect all around the world.

What a letdown! What does one do in a situation like this? Just another of those situations.

Would not have even written this blog post, but after 'begging' up 1345 USD from the Kofi Annan Center in Accra and the Indian Association, our messenger of peace and harmony wrote us a text message, saying that this was the city where he met the worst Nepalese so far! That after one of us put him up in his house for three days and gave him 160 USD for his visas (not to mention the Red Label bottle he emptied), one brought him to his house for dinner and also contributed about 30 USD, and me (stupid me) in my infinite "useless" wisdom, offered to build his online presence and support him doing that through facebook pages, twitter and blogs, for the next four and half years of his travels. Oh and yes, I did not give him any financial 'push'!

OK, me being me, I also gave him a little piece of my mind! Just told him about this very dilemma in my mind!

So, am still confused, am I proud of him or not?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cylone Aila Update / Sunderbans

Small gains in the support of victims of Cyclone Aila - Report from Asit Biswas, www.helptourism.com

Dear Friends,

1.With the initiative of the Sunderbans Affairs Department, repairing of embankment finally began today – especially in Gosaba, Basanti, Satjelia, Mollakhali and Kumirmari area. Our volunteers led by our coordinators Mr.Anil Mistry, Mr.Shambhu Sinha Roy, Mr.Arabinda Biswas, Mr.Subhash Mandal, Mrs.Archana Biswas, Ms.Moyna Poira, Ms.Nibedita Gayen, Mr.Subhashis Mistry, Mr.Chidam Mandal, Mr.Badal Mandal, Mr.Mahadeb Gayen, Mr.Dinabandhu Mandal, Mr.Debashish Mistry are providing supervisory support to speed up the repairing works in Bali. Ms. Madhu Reddy – a film maker who is in Sunderbans now and is trying to document the situation there accompanied our team who visited Dayapur, Pakhiralaya, Satjelia, Mollakhali and Kumirmari today to check the progress. Madhu reports that:

· Repairing of embankment could not be started at Lahiripur, Chargheri, Kankmari, Parashmani, Kalidaspur, Baidyapara area as the villages are still submerged and are inaccessible because of wide breaches in the dike. There lies nothing in between the water and people – not even a single tree. It is impossible to believe or imagine that there ever existed a dike that ran few kilometers before the Cyclone hit – she says!

· The villagers have taken shelter on the highland. They have lost everything and do not even have any utensils to cook food and store drinking water. There is shortage of man power and materials required for the repairing. Many interior villages have not received adequate relief support as yet as they are completely cut off. The fallen trees could not be removed from the village tracts making it impossible for the relief workers to reach these villages even by a motor rickshaw or bicycle.Our team is planning to return to these villages on Monday with appropriate relief materials.

· The only primary health centre at Mollakhali that caters to several villages is getting flooded with Diarrhea patients. There is shortage of medicines and saline. Our team has left 200 bottles of saline there today as an emergency support.

Government of West Bengal is seriously planning to construct concrete dikes for long-term solution to the breaching of clay embankments by tides and storms and is reported to have been in touch with Central Government as well as Government of Japan for financial assistance/ loan as the project requires huge fund.

2.Sunderbans Affairs Department is supplying free cloths and ration to the villagers who are engaged in the repairing of embankments.

3.Mr.D.P.Jana – a retired officer of Indian Administrative Service and former Member Secretary of Sunderbans Development Board carried a truckload of relief items such as cloths, rice, pulses, cooking oil, drinking water, and milk to Bali Island yesterday and handed over the consignment to our team there. Our volunteers have distributed the relief items today to some remote villages in Bali Island where relief support had not reached before. Today they visited few villages in Satjelia, Mollakhali and Kumirmari and distributed relief items there.

4.Mr.Gurudas Kamath – the State Minister for Telecommunications in the Central Government undertook a field visit to Sunderbans day before yesterday. He visited the affected villages of Gosaba and Basanti Islands and stopped for a while in Bali Island and met our teams and took stock of the present situation. He was particularly curious to know as to how the telecommunication and postal departments faired during and after the cyclone. He was accompanied by the officers of the state telecommunication department whose performance deserves special appreciation as the wireless phone system installed by the department was the only functional communication link between the delta and the mainland when the cyclone was at its peak.

5.Nearly 700 contaminated ponds in Bali Island have been totally dewatered as on date with the help of Sunderbans Development Board, local communities and our volunteers working round-the-clock. By Monday we hope to clean another 300 ponds making the number to 1000 and thus benefiting 6000 farmers provided we have a normal monsoon in the delta.

6.Mr. Patrick Francis and Ms.Sangeeta Ganeriwala – two Board Members from Samarpan Foundation visited our health camps in Bali Island yesterday. They carried a consignment of many useful medicines along and confirmed that they would adopt few damaged houses in the village and provide the finance for few new tube wells.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group
Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.
13th June 2009.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Small gains, some progress - Aila Update!

Dear Friends,

1. Several villages in Satjelia, Choto Mollakhali, Kumirmari and Patharpratima are still water-logged though pump sets are being used to take out the salt water from the ponds and farm fields. Many villagers here have taken shelter on the boats and are even using their boats for moving inside the Island since the roads are totally washed away and can not be reconstructed until the area remains under water.

2. While the relief operation is more or less organized now, the immediate task would be to clean up the fresh water ponds and pumping out the saline water form the villages and start the rehabilitation process – the people of Sunderbans feels. Another area that needs attention is the housing. No concrete and comprehensive plan has been announced so far. Villagers living in temporary shelters will face great difficulties once the monsoon hits the Islands. It is still not known if the Government is planning any specialized housing scheme keeping in mind that cyclones might hit the delta again in future. Dewatering of farmlands must be completed before the monsoon arrives so that villagers are able to plant crops and can manage to ensure the basic need of food.

3. Most of the inhabited Islands are now affected by Diarrhea. The hungry tide has rolled back its waves away into the sea, but the tide of patients continues to raise everyday with very limited number of doctors available to handle the situation. There is dearth of medicines and mosquito nets. In the absence of qualified medical practitioners quack doctors have been engaged to provide support though they may not be able to take the pressure for a long time. Supplying drinking water to remote villages has not been possible yet although many tube wells have been repaired and new ones are being erected.

4. A medical camp has been set up at the premises of WPSI Conservation Centre-Sunderbans Jungle Camp in Bali Island with a team of Doctors sent by Samarpan Foundation. The team will hold camps until 18th June and so far more than 800 villagers have received treatment. With generous support from WPSI, Kedar Bhide of Sumitomo Chemical Corporation, Samarpan Foundation and Sunderbans Jungle Camp medicines, saline and Olyset mosquito nets are being provided to patients from the camp free of cost.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group
Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Appeal from Cyclone Aila 2009 Disaster Relief Support Group

Seems like the most I can do to support the relief operations at the moment is spread the news, hopefully, and if you are reading this, it must be getting spread. Here is an reproduced appeal from the Support Group. The original of the appeal is here


An appeal to you:

Two weeks ago Cyclone Aila ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh. In the Sunderbans, the scenic islands and mangrove forests set in the Gangetic delta, the wind, the tidal waves and the flood destroyed or damaged over 500,000 houses. Over 150,000 people lost their homes, fields, work equipment and livelihoods. Many of them lost their breadwinners or other family members.

With the disaster killing their cattle and rendering their farmlands saline and infertile for many months or even years, it is a very grim outlook for the people here. In India and Bangladesh an estimated five million people are affected in one way or the other.

Heavy monsoon rains are predicted in few days to come – a grim forecast considering that many of the affected families are left with no proper shelter.

To prevent more floods, the local communities with support from the government, military and NGOs have been desperately trying to repair embankments to prepare for the monsoon.

Still effective disaster management is not on track yet. There is a lack of basic necessities like water, staple food and medical assistance. While some delta islands have received relief items, many others have got nothing. Health workers fear that lack of water and sanitation facilities may lead to outbreak of epidemics. Already there are cases of diarrhoea. Children will go hungry on under-nourished.

The media grossly under-reported the impact of the disaster and failed to predict its aftermath. It was actually a precursor another calamity with the fierce annual monsoon rains imminent.

In a rapid response to the appeal of our local partners in the Sunderbans, The Blue Yonder, Traveltocare.com and Help Tourism have set up the Cyclone Aila Support Group to help local communities in peril in the Sunderbans Region. Our local partner, the Association for Conservation and Tourism (ACT), was in the field during and immediately after the cyclone and is currently stretching its resources to reach out to people at the earliest.

The Cyclone Aila Support Group has partnered with the well-known Charities Aid Foundation – India (CAF India) to help manage an accountable and transparent fund raising process. The ACT and the West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA) are co-ordinating relief efforts on the ground.

The Cyclone Aila Support Group is committed to supporting the long-term rehabilitation of the Sunderbans region and we need all your support – for now and for the future!

We urge governments, public and private organisations, and fellow human beings to wake up to this disaster and the impending tragedy that is about to unfold. Kindly support the people in need!!

A sample on how even small amount can make a difference.

Rs 50 or one euro: Drinking water for five families for one day.
Rs 50 or one euro: Epidemic protection for one week
Rs 250 or five euros: Buys 10 flashlights to protect against snakebites and accidents
Rs 500 or 10 euros: Food for 50 people for one day
Rs 500 or ten euros: Enough food supply for one family for two weeks
Rs 2500 or 50 euros: People in a small village do not have to sleep under open sky
Rs 5000 or 100 euros: Transportation and supplies with one boat

We can make a difference!

Check the website for more updates from field and on how to donate efficiently


Thank you!

For Cyclone Aila Support Group
Asit Biswas, Ashish Gupta & Gopinath Parayil

photographs: copyright Reuters, Andrew Biraj, Jayanta Shaw

Monday, June 8, 2009

Its all about Action! Cyclone Aila Update

Update from Asit Biswas from Help Tourism

1. With support from our partner Samarpan Foundation a team of Doctors along with a consignment of essential medicines left for Bali Island today. They will hold medical camps in Bali and adjoining Islands for next few days to attend the medical problems and diseases erupted in the aftermath of Cyclone Aila.

2. A second team will follow after three days.

3. With financial support from our Partner WPSI couple of pump sets has been already made available in Bali and other Islands for pumping the stranded saline water out from the village ponds and fields.

4. No further inundation is reported with the end of the spring tide on last Sunday. The next tide is expected from 22nd June.

5. The accumulation of saline water due to the tides and breaching of embankments followed by the contamination has given unprecedented rise to the mosquito population which in turn might spread infectious diseases in the Islands. Medical teams sent by Indian Army, government departments and NGOs have reached many Islands today although Relief and medical teams have not yet set foot in many interior areas. People there complained that the relief support was reaching to the bank of the Island only and not to the interior villages. There is unconfirmed report of five Diarrhea deaths in Satjelia Island.

6. Few defunct tube wells have already been repaired in some villages. Sunderbans Development Board has started to erect new ones as well.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group

Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.
8th June 2009

Friday, June 5, 2009

Coordination finally & a little love on World Environment Day

Am again just spreading the updates from Asit Biswas, of Help Tourism... there are some interesting reads below, a wave a relief as special task forces seems to have a sembling of order in the relief operations and some coordination, stark drinking water shortages putting it back in our heads how acute the crisis is, and a little show of love by a village who rescued a banded krait taking refuge in their house.

Read on.

Cyclone Aila 2009/Update/Sunderbans, India.

Dear Friends,

1. The Indian Army has already started sending special task force to Sunderbans. The special rescue, relief and medical teams from the Army reached to the Islands today to provide the much-awaited support for evacuation, relief operation and reconstruction. Common people are of the opinion that such steps should have been taken much earlier.

2. The government departments seem to have been able to establish a basic coordination concerning relief operations. Each consignment is now being sent under the joint supervision of representatives from the Police, District administration and village councils making the relief operation quite smooth and democratic.

3. The carcass of dead animals (cattle) could be removed from the rivers and many villages excepting places like Kumirmari, Choto Mollakhali, Shamshernagar. These areas are affected by the full moon tide as well. There is no report of any attempt to repair the embankments here. People are already being evacuated from Kumirmari, Choto Mollakhali, Amtoli, Lahiripur, Satjelia and Kachukhali. In the mean while Calcutta Port Trust which keeps track of the tides in Hoogly river has issued an alert saying that the next tide scheduled to hit the Islands on 22nd June would bring higher waves than the current one. The government is planning to procure a barge to extract soil from underwater to repair the embankments as there is acute shortage of clay locally. The embankments will have to brave few more tides before the proper repairing work can be started.

4. The drinking water situation continues to remain same with enteric spreading in many areas. There are contradictory figures supplied by government department and health NGOs working there as to the number of villagers suffering from the disease.

5. There remains huge confusion concerning the amount of ad-hoc compensation announced by the government for rebuilding the smashed houses in the villages. The villagers do not know how much money they will get, from whom, when and how.

6. While death follows as an obvious penalty when a snake sneaks in a house after flood sweeps away its nest and is eventually detected, the villagers of Bijayanagr 3 proved an exception by rescuing a Banded Krait today. It was trying to take shelter in Mr.Sunil Mondal’s house. They rescued the snake alive and handed over to the forest department officials. A little love made a positive difference on the World Environment Day.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group
Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.
5th June 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Its the High Tide now! Cyclone Aila Update

Update from Asit Biswas, Help Tourism

Dear Friends,

Our Principal Field coordinator Mr. Anil Mistry is currently touring to the Islands to check the condition – especially the progress of repairing of embankments.

He reports:

The full moon tide has once again inundated the worst-affected areas like Kumirmari, Ranipur, Choto Mollakhali, Puinjali today making the future of the ill-fated Islanders completely shattered. There is no hope for any immediate reconstruction work to take place after such consecutive disasters with roughly 15,000 villagers becoming homeless and without any livelihood option left.

Emergency repairing of embankments could not be initiated as materials required for emergency repairing (Gunny bags, sand/clay, bamboo etc.) have not reached to these areas. Most of the villagers have taken shelter on the bunds or in local schools or Panchayat buildings. Private contractors have declined to come forward and repair the embankments here.
Repairing work has started in Bara Mollakhali, Taranagar areas sporadically but the Islands are still not fully protected as the tide will continue to rise for the next couple of days.
The situation is slightly better in Sandeshkhali, Hingalgunj, Patharpratima, Basanti and Gosaba though the condition in the interior villages has not improved much.

Food and medicines have finally reached many areas but there is still immense shortage of drinking water.

Government has requested Indian Army, Navy and Air Force to send special task force for providing emergency evacuation support, relief operations, and medical help and also to support the reconstruction work.

The next 4/5 days would be crucial as the Met office has bad news for us. Heavy depression is reported in the sea which can gain strength any moment and turn into a powerful storm.

More updates will follow soon.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group
Asit Biswas, India.

4th June 2009.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cyclone Aila - Progress and Setbacks

As is with disasters of this nature, you always have two sides... a immense feeling of goodwill and generosity, fantastic people doing fantastic work, people benefited, and the flip side and side effects - Irresponsible giving, unplanned rehabilitation works, and the resultant accumulation of inorganic wastes and damage to the environment. Some of it is already highlighted in Asit's status report from the field, that he posted on a latest update on the facebook support group

However, we all have to do something about it... Disaster management work is messy, but it is heartening to note that people like Asit, Gopi, Ashish, Karen, Marcus, Linda and countless others are there, who are concerned about minimising the negative impacts of this effort too... I am sure that will have an effect.

The update in full, taken from the support page on FB, reproduced below.

For more details, go directly to the facebook group page @ http://tinyurl.com/aila09 . There are updates, references to sites where you can donate, etc.

Dear Friends,

A quick update from the field:

1.In the wake of the forthcoming tide set to hit Sunderbans from 5th June the Government machinery is gearing up. With government support and initiative of local NGOs and Panchayats, communities have started emergency repairing of embankments in few Islands namely Bali, Gosaba, Satjelia, Jharkhali, Basanti, Sandeshkhali. In some areas the progress has been good though in many areas the work is slow due to acute shortage of clay and manpower since many villagers have left their homes. Government’s appeal to private contractors for help did not yield significant response. No major repairing work reported from worst-affected places like Kumirmari, Mollakhali, Shamshernagar, Hingalgunj, Ranipur where most of the villages are still submerged. They have not received sufficient relief support as yet.

2.There is still acute crisis of drinking water in most of the islands although government vessels are ferrying water since last three days. The handful of tube wells that have been supplying potable water to several villages all these days may collapse any moment due to overuse.

3.Few medical teams have arrived finally but the requirement is so much that they can not really make any difference unless special task force of Doctors and nursing staff are sent urgently. There is acute shortage of emergency medicines as well. With generous funding support from our partners and WPSI Cyclone Relief Fund we have sent a truck load of emergency medicines and bleaching powder today. In Bali we organized training for 40 health volunteers today under the guidance, presence and leadership of Dr.Supada Mandal. The volunteers will now spread in different villages with stock of medicines we dispatched today. Such volunteer teams must be formed in other Islands as well to combat the epidemic which may surface any moment.

4.It has been observed that many individual and organizations are carrying relief items to the Islands that are not necessary. Many of them are just handing over the relief materials to the nearest communities and villages to the boat jetty prompting them to take easy escape by begging that never existed in Sunderbans. This could also encourage few rackets who would take undue advantage of the situation. It is not possible for the administration to keep a check on this in this crisis period. It is advisable that all donors or contributors who prefer to deliver the relief support personally to the victims should engage local NGOs, community bodies, panchayats for proper and fair distribution of the relief items.

5.Proper packaging of the relief items and selection of unit size, type and size of containers must be carefully done to avoid further pollution to the Islands and the park. Many villages and Islands are getting flooded with plastic bottles, empty plastic pouches and packets. Many non biodegradable items are floating on the rivers and channels which could turn out to be dangerous. Such environmental issues get diluted in the event of such devastation and we tend to pay no time to think about it and take these items back to the designated dumping ground in the main land. This must be addressed.

6.There is no stopping of people leaving their homes and heading to the main land. On an immediate basis we need to clean some of the village ponds and that can only be done by using pumps to drain out the water and then cleaning the tanks so that when the rains comes, they can be filled with potable water. The monsoons are due any moment but they are a double-edged sword, while they will provide some clean drinking water they will affect most of the population who are still in make-shift accommodation on the embankments on higher ground. As far as the eye can see the fields are full of salt water.

7.The local politics has created havoc in the actual rehabilitation work but there is nothing we can do about it. Rumors are running every corner of the villages, in the corridors of power and even in the Media about the rehabilitation and relief operations.

For Cyclone Aila 2009 Relief Support Group

Asit Biswas
3rd June 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Skip Beers, Save a life!

Message from Gopi Parayil, The Blue Yonder.

Appealing to you...

A report from Indian Express,
"Nine-year-old Sandeepa Gharami survived Cyclone Aila, but succumbed in its aftermath. She died on an embankment near Lahiripur on Friday after several days of continuous vomiting and diarrhoea. She received no medical care. Her parents buried her by the river.

A week after the storm, the first signs of a severe outbreak of enteric diseases have emerged on the battered islands of Sunderban."

People are dying for silly reasons! Some died because they didn't have access to drinking water!

The donation we are asking for doesn't have to be in millions. If you can and if you can convince your friends and colleagues to skip a night out, or pay at least for the beer that you would be drinking otherwise, that can SAVE lives!

Look at this simple reality.....

Pounded Rice 50 Kg - at the price of 8 beers
Puffed Rice 25 kg - at the price of 8 beers
Packaged Drinking Water- 20 litres - at the price of one beer!!!
Polythene Sheet - at the price of 2 beers
Bleaching Powder - 25 kg at the price of 3 beers
Torch - at the price of 3 beers
Condensed Milk 1 Kg for 2 beers -
Container for Drinking Water 50 liters - at the price of 1 or 2 beers
Geoline – 200 (Water purifier)(Liquid) - 2 beers price
Norflox+ Tiniadazole - 1 strip - 1 beer?

and many more????!!!!

A small push, and we can that difference to the people suffering !
Help spread this news around, please donate if you can!

We can ensure that your money is accountable and it is used well!

For Cyclone Aila Support Group


Cyclone Aila: An Update from the field!

Reproduced from Facebook Update from Cyclone Aila 2009 - Support Group

Dear All,

Apologies for the delayed posting. Thanks very much for all your support and concern that you have so passionately expressed through this group.

I and Bikram Grewal (from WPSI) just returned from Sunderbans after a hectic field visit. In the last two days we visited some of the worst-hit islands such as Gosaba, Basanti, Bali, Satjelia,Choto Mollakhali and we met thousands of affected villagers and talked to hundreds of them.

It is difficult to describe the devastation in writing.

The situation is much worst than what we had imagined. Thousands and thousands of houses have been reduced to dust by the storm. With nearly 500 kilometers of embankments destroyed, more than a million people are still marooned – most of them without drinking water, food, shelter and emergency medical support even after a week since the Cyclone Aila had hit the Sunderbans. There is no correct figure as to how many hectors of arable agricultural lands have been inundated and what the extent of damage to the crops and livestock is. In most of the villages the grain storage which usually supplies food to a family is washed away along with the main house resulting lack of food security of the islanders. During the field survey it seemed evident that in most of the islands agriculture would be impossible in next 3 years. During the interviews many of the islanders confirmed they had never faced such a devastating cyclone in the last 20 years (the last super Cyclone had pounded in 1988).

A primary guesstimate suggests that:

•Roughly one and half millions people in Gosaba, Pathrpratima, Sagar, Basanti, Higangunj and Sandeshkhali blocks have lost everything and are facing a grim and uncertain future with no hopes to return to normal life unless something miraculous happens!
•Nearly Forty Thousand houses disappeared
•Crops, vegetables, farm fishes worth Rupees 30 Crores (3000 Millions) are lost
•Around Six Thousands people are already affected by the outbreak of Diarrhea

In every village or island we stopped, we saw endless queue of villagers including small children with empty pots - crying for a drop of drinking water. Many villagers are forced to hire boats everyday and travel half a day to fetch a pot of drinking water from another village where a tube well is working by chance! The Government relief that started trickling down since yesterday with personal initiative of few Ministers and elected Public Representatives and with the intervention of the Chief Minister of West Bengal who visited the affected areas yesterday, appeared to be way below what could be termed as adequate. There seems to be a lack of coordination and planning as far as distribution of Government relief is concerned.

Our visit to some of the interior villages produced horrifying pictures with house after house being abandoned by the dwellers and pile of rotting dead animals and fishes and decaying trees and plants lying everywhere. There is no one to clear the debris and remove the carcasses. The sweet water ponds already got contaminated with the surface color turned into deep black perhaps spelling out the message of death! All the drinking water sources are lying dead. There is no fodder available for the cows and goats to survive. The villagers are either shifting the animals to nearby towns or are selling them at throw-away prices. The only sign of life that punctuated our journey through the haunted villages was the occasional cry of the lonely dogs left by their masters. While driving to Gadkhali jetty we observed that driven by hunger and desperation thousands of Islanders started fleeing the only world they know the city of Calcutta. We do not know if the city that took 3 full days to restore electricity, water supply for its bonafide citizens after the Cyclone is still left with any more capacity to face this exodus!

A quick visit inside the National Park did not apparently reveal much damage to the mangroves and mud flats though we did not see much wildlife except few birds and a water monitor. There are reports of crocodiles to have slipped in with tides in few villages, but no attack, rescue or release was heard of.

The Project Tiger team, under the able and firm leadership of Mr.Subrat Mukherjee - the Field Director of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, is doing excellent work and deserves high appreciation for their timely intervention and initiative. It was heartening to see and know how the team and Mr.Mukherjee immediately rushed to the affected areas and have been working tirelessly to support the villagers and also to protect the park and the wildlife simultaneously. I have posted pictures taken by Mr.Anil Mistry from WPSI of a Bengal Tiger being rescued by the forest department from a village in Satjelia Island to our friend Marcus Bauer who will upload the same on our Facebook group. The tiger had strayed in a village house to take shelter when the storm and tide was on peak. Both the family staying in the house and the tiger shared same space till the forest department got the information and reached there with a rescue team. Such co-existence only speaks of the gravity and power of the Cyclone that brought both together under a single domain. We must salute the villagers of Jamespur who extended their best support to the rescue team despite their unfathomable miseries. It is hoped that the striped cat will once again thrive in its mangrove kingdom.

The local NGOs with support from NGOs from nearby towns and Calcutta are also doing their best to standby the people of Sunderbans. Many of them are running temporary relief camps and are supplying essentials to the islanders by boats. Few are supplying cooked food as well. We feel that there should be a working cell in every administrative block with representatives from local administration, all local and partner/donor NGOs working there and set up a common agenda with specific task, responsibilities and targets instead of following individual plan and bringing many unnecessary items just for the sake of the relief. I think we should take lessons from the post-Tsunami situation in Andaman Islands. A proper documentation of the post-Cyclone situation could be a vital instrument for the human society to get a real picture and also to find remedies in future.

The three-storied concrete building of Bijaynagar Adarsha Bidya Mandir on Bali Island is now providing shelter, food and water to nearly 4000 villagers including many children and aged people everyday since 25th May. Mention should be made of the efforts and selfless service of the head teacher of the school Mr.Sukumar Paira and his colleagues supported by our coordinators Mr.Anil Mistry, Mr.Arabinda Biswas and Mr.Shambu Sinha Roy and the volunteers and the members of local Nature Clubs. Unfortunately, the
School building and its premises got partially damaged by the Cyclone.

The immediate support (relief materials) received from our partners such as WPSI, Samarpan Trust, Sanctuary Asia, Kolkata Birds, Delhi Birds, Bangalore Birds have already been distributed in the villages by our volunteers. Details will be available on the group in due course. More support is requested and is expected. The tube wells that exist in Bijaynagar Adarsha Bidya Mandir and in the premises of Sunderbans Jungle Camp are luckily still functional and are providing drinking water to nearly fifteen thousand villagers in Bali, Satyanarayanpur, Saterkona, Amlamethi, Gosaba, Pakhiralay, Dayapur, Satjelia everyday with the help of our motor boats.

The villagers of Bali 9 were surprised when a city-bred and leading West Bengal-based Industrialist Mr.Bipin Bhora arrived at their village at 3 A.M with three boat load of relief materials. He after reading reports in Newspapers and watching news on Television wanted to distribute the relief items himself and was accompanied by his wife and a team from his office. When asked by our coordinator Mr.Shambhu Sinha Roy how best the relief items could be distributed and to which areas, the villagers of Bali 9 unanimously told that they were in much better condition due to the immediate relief support they had received after the Cyclone. Based on their advice Mr.Bhora distributed the relief items in Satjelia, Lahiripur with the help and inputs from our volunteers.

What next?

•With another full moon tide approaching fast and set to hit the islands on 7th June, the first and foremost task lies with us, the villagers and administration is to raise alert call and confirm minimum repairing and protection of the broken embankments on war footing basis. Proper and long term repairing of the embankments can follow once we are able to protect the islands from further inundation by the forthcoming tide. If we can not do that, there is no chance that we can really do much later. We must reach the communities in the villages urgently and organize community groups and initiate action as fast as possible. If we can do that, we may expect that the legendary Sunderbans Islanders will once again prove their unputdownable fighting spirit and add another chapter to the history of their never-ending battle in the land of the hungry tide.

•Secondly, emergency Medical assistance and supply of primary medicines to combat Cholera and Diarrhea would be crucially important and must be made available immediately. Support groups may be formed with local youth who after receiving a very short and basic training/ briefing by a qualified Doctor (one such programme will be held in Bali 9 village on Wednesday for 30 local health volunteers) can provide emergency medical support with stock of basic medicines readily available with them.

We will get back to you soon with more updates.


For Cyclone Aila 2009 - Support Group

Asit Biswas, Calcutta, India.
1st June 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

Travel Philanthropy in Action!

Now this is a post that really suits the title of this blog..... ...be inspired!

Tourism companies are coming together to do "real" work on the ground to support rehabilitation efforts following the devastation caused by Cyclone Aila. Strangely enough, it has not been reported too widely in the western media, so no one knows about it, but this cyclone killed over 200 people and has widely displaced people, and in the reserves in the Sunderbans, wildlife, including the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger.

Some pictures of the devastation from the new search engine, www.bing.com is here http://www.tinyurl.com/ailapics ... I warn you that some of the pictures will depress you.

However, nature has a way to strike and there is nothing we can do about it, except follow in its wake and do the humanitarian thing. HELP! in any way we can.

In this particular case, the response has been inspiring. The Blue Yonder and Travel to Care were quick to respond to the actions initiated immediately by Help Tourism, all private tourism operations, concerned, responsible, and committed. Thats inspiring. And that is not all. Immediately across the world, Grace Tours in Denmark, Ethical Travel Portal in Norway and Respontour.net in Austria, chipped in and set up bank accounts and have started a campaign of fund raising to help support the rehabilitation efforts on the ground. Again, all private operations, concerned, responsible and committed.

Talk of Travel Philanthropy in action! Kudos, Asit, Raj Basu, Gopi, Ashish, Karen, Marcus, Linda ... You are inspiring a lot of people right now!

Letter from the organisers requesting support

Cyclone Aila hit Eastern India & Bangladesh on 24th of May 2009 and left a path of destruction in its wake directly affecting over 5 million people and reportedly killing 200 people. Although under-reported by western media, local aid agencies say that the true extent of the tragedy is gradually unfolding.

A number of districts in West Bengal, India are deeply affected as heavy rains and gale force winds tore into houses and trees, damaging roads, electrical & communication infrastructure. Further south in the Sunderbans Delta, over 400,000 people in 200 villages are marooned due to floods. With their homes under water due to breaches in embankments, schools and government offices are serving as temporary, but wholly inadequate shelter, while others are still at the mercy of the elements. According reports from UNDMT India, many villages in the worst-affected areas still remain inaccessible.

Asit Biswas from the NGO, ACT (Association for Conservation and Tourism) reported from the world famous Sunderbans, home to the Royal Bengal tiger, that “thousands of villagers are still stranded without food or freshwater in Bali and adjacent islands. Cultivated fields and fresh water bodies have turned saline due to breaches in embankments; carcasses of their cattle are still floating, leaving homeless communities to ponder about their livelihoods. “

Traveltocare.com in association with The Blue Yonder and Help Tourism has set up a “Cyclone Aila 2009 Support Group” on the social networking site ‘Facebook’. The group has launched a fund raising campaign to help the people affected by the cyclone. For more information pls see http://rtnetworking.org/aila

Karen Stigsen of Traveltocare.com said, “We have our partners, ACT in West Bengal, working closely with local communities and in conservation initiatives for several years. To help in their initiatives in disaster relief, we took up the responsibility to help raise funds for them.“ Our joint initiative has also partnered with Charities Aid Foundation in India (www.cafindia.org) so that funds we raise can be transferred to their account. CAF India will then redistribute the funds to assist in the work undertaken by ACT.

Based on daily reports from ACT and other local agencies, assessment of the damage is still going on and we are yet to receive the extent to which financial support will be needed in different locations. Four trucks of essential items and medicine have been sent to those most in need.

We invite all individuals and organisations to join us in this initiative and make a positive difference to the lives of thousands of people. Working closely with our local partners, we will send you regular updates on how the funds are being utilised & the status on the ground. Any surplus funds raised will be utilised for disaster mitigation, rehabilitation, conservation & livelihood support of the local region.

The bank details are in the hyperlink below. Please note that any transfers should have a reference code “FBCA2009”. This way, it is easy for us to track down the amount raised. We look forward to your support.

Donation details are available

Updates are also available on

If you are on Facebook, you can follow it at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=85465385255

On twitter, follow the #aila2009 hashtag for activity and updates on how this is progressing.


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