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 @ . 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


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