In the press
The Gujarat Earthquake: National volunteers rekindle hopes in communities to rebuild lives
08 March 2001
Gujarat, India: Anyone passing these days through Anjar, Bacchau, Bhuj, Gandhidham, Rapar, Maliya and Morbi towns in Gujarat, India, would be shocked at the devastation caused by the earthquake of 26 January 2001 that measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale. Over 100 high-rise apartments built during the past five years have either been reduced to rubble or damaged enough to be declared unsafe. Even the upper-class houses that have withstood the earthquake have suffered severe cracks.
Seeing the vast mounds of debris, it is as if the towns and villages have been ravaged by a continuous volley of missiles. With 20,000 officially confirmed deaths and another 60,000 injured, the Gujarat seems like a war zone. It is difficult to imagine that such vast devastation was unleashed in 75 seconds. The tremendous challenge of rebuilding lives and livelihoods reinforces the need for a strong partnership between the government agencies, civil society and UN Volunteers.
There has been a constant demonstration of concern and flow of assistance from international agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), individuals and various state governments as well as from around the world.
India after the 2001 earthquake More than 150 local NGOs and 300 international NGOs and organizations based themselves in the city of Bhuj alone immediately after the earthquake disaster to assist with the rescue operations in the Kutch district. Every organization and individual seemed highly determined and committed to providing timely assistance to the people affected by the earthquake. For a while, these efforts were hindered due to the lack of rapid identification of gaps and lack of relief coordination in the earthquake-affected cities and villages. With the setting up of an UN on-site operation, later renamed, the UN Joint Cell at the Collectorate Office in Bhuj, the United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have worked to exchange information and identifying gaps to avoid duplication. Equally, it has been coordinating the efforts from the international agencies in their relief and rehabilitation programme. This has been highly appreciated by both the Government and NGOs. Mr. L. Mansingh, Chief Relief Coordinator, says, "UNDP should continue to take the lead in coordinating the efforts of relief and rehabilitation of international agencies".
In the 17 villages in the Rajkot District where 28 national United Nations Volunteer (NUNV) field workers are stationed, people had very little access to relief materials in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Many of the community members in these villages are still living in the tents built from the jute bags that probably will not last for more than a month. While they have heard of the steady flow of relief materials and abundance of assistance rendered in the Kutch District, they feel not much assistance is reaching out to their villages. The villagers, however, consider themselves fortunate that it was the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sanghathan (NYKS), an autonomous body under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, in collaboration with the 28 NUNVs who came to them at the time of their need. NYKS is the only organization based in Maliya and has extended its presence in Morbi through the sister concern, National Service Schemes (NSS).
Although it has been over a month since the calamity struck, villagers still live amidst heaps of debris. Sanitation facilities are at a bare minimum. Many people are unaware of the compensation and schemes related to shelter and livelihood. Even where information is reaching, there are sections of people who are not able to get past complicated procedures and bureaucratic red tape. All this is common in the case of the more disadvantaged sections of the society who are left to fend for themselves. The NUNVs launched swiftly into their work.
NUNVs Ms. Kalariya Vinaben Vallabhai Patel and Mr. Jitendra R. Patel, a husband and wife team, are working in Jepur village in Morbi District. A certain section of the village of Jepur, it seems, did not accept any assistance from outside their community. When Ms. Beth Duff-Brown, Chief of the Associated Press South Asia Bureau visited the village recently for an article on UNDP's coordination efforts following the earthquake, she asked the villagers, "What about assistance from the NUNVs?" The villagers immediately replied "They have become part of our community. We shall gladly accept any assistance from them". It was no surprise that these two NUNVs had won the trust of the community. They were already activating the defunct mahila mandals or womens' groups and youth clubs.
In the village of Nanabhela in Morbi District, it is a different scenario. The NUNVs, Mr. Jagdish Vasharambhu Kavar and Mr. Shailesh K. Kavar stationed in these villages do not need to build rapport with the community for both of them were selected from within the community. They live in tents with their family members as their houses have been totally destroyed. Like everyone else affected by the earthquake disaster, they are dependent on the relief materials and assistance as they have lost virtually every material possession. But these NUNVs are determined to put the tragedy behind them and start from scratch. They have been instrumental in mobilizing the community to remove debris, assisting also by distributing cash assistance from the Government and relief materials as well as liaising with the gram panchayats (village councils).
Until the earthquake struck Gujarat on India's Republic Day, NUNV Dr. Ramesh M. Kavar, who hails from Nanabhela village, had a lucrative practice as a veterinary doctor, earning up to 12,000 rupees a month -- a decent packet in these parts. With the quake, he not only lost his house but his livelihood, too, since the community would not be able to afford to pay him for the treatment of their livestock. When it was mentioned to him during the interview for the NUNV assignment that he could still continue to earn his living through his practice in the other cities not affected from the earthquake, he said, "I do not want to desert my community at this hour of grief and need. Further, I want to forget that I am a veterinary doctor for the time being and work as a volunteer for social work has been my passion".
Many UN Volunteers are still recovering from trauma due to the loss of dear ones. The trauma permeates throughout the community. Rare is a villager who has not lost either a relative or some of part of his or her community.
The NUNVs, however, are trying to make the best of even this tragic situation by instilling self-confidence and mobilizing the community to assist in moving away from a dependency syndrome and towards a spirit of mutual help. Says NUNV K. M. Mulani, "I feel nice when the community here calls me an angel from heaven." In the words of NUNV Sunil Tiwari, "The spirit of brotherhood has livened up my soul and that's why I am a UNV."
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