Radix - Gujarat media coverage, 6



Chaos surrounds relief, rescue work (Times of India, 30-01-01)

Even three days after the quake, there's no power, running water or phones here but this pales in comparison to the chaotic state of relief and rescue work.
While amputations are being carried out in a tent in the dusty jubilee ground, a 17-member team of Mumbai-based doctors returned on Monday for "lack of work". Hundreds of people are still believed to be trapped under the rubble but apart from a handful of international rescue workers there's no one to search for them.
Even as people are running out of supplies, cartons of cooked food are lying at the airport with no one to distribute.
Unclaimed bodies extricated from the rubble are dumped in a corner of the jubilee ground, a stone's throw from the collector's office.
Bhuj is far from flattened completely with most bungalows and several multi-storey buildings surviving the quake with minor wall cracks. But in the absence of certificates from structural engineers, panicky residents are unwilling to enter them. The district administration, fearful of fresh tremors, has instructed people not to use any multi-storey building.
The U:K: based International Recue Corps are unable to get their sniffer dogs with them because of the delay in getting permission from the Centre. Arriving at noon on Sunday, they managed to locate eight survivors in 17 collapsed buildings with sophisticated listening equipment which can spot a trapped victim even if he is unconscious by the sound of breathing.
More lives could be saved if the local rescue teams could work on the leads provided by the international rescue teams but the local rescue teams have given up in the absence of equipment such as gas cutters and drills. As a result, the 69-member rescue team had managed to extricate only a mother and child till Sunday night.
In the absence of communications, even simple coordination has become difficult. People are streaming into the town, unable to ascertain the fate of their relatives over the phone. There are just two satellite phones in the entire town, one of which was left open for the public to make calls. The breakdown is a fallout of the partial collapse of the telephone exchange building, killing five employees.
All government and private services are running on skeletal staff because virtually everyone has lost a relative or a house in the disaster. Even the armed forces which have a sizable presence in Bhuj, which has an IAF air base, are busy evacuating their family members.

Food riots hamper quake relief work in Gujarat (Times of India, 30-01-01)

Survivors of Friday's devastating earthquake in Gujarat have started looting vehicles carrying food packets and other relief material in several districts, even as an over-stretched administration struggles to come to terms with the magnitude of the disaster. The survivors have now been without food and water for four days.
Officials manning control rooms in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, set up to monitor relief operations, said there was chaos on roads leading to Bhuj, Bachahau, Rapar and Anjar in Kutch district, where earthquake victims are waylaying vehicles arriving with relief material.
….In Bachhau Taluka, where 30,000 out of a population of 40,000 is feared trapped, armed gangs have begun attacking the survivors. According to eyewitnesses, they are looting jewellery, breaking open already ravaged cupboards and threatening the survivors with choppers, knives and sticks.
….the local police, many of whom have lost their near and dear ones, expressed difficulty in containing the looting spree. One official wryly said, "This was expected, wasn't it! We are helpless with a broken leg or hand and relatives still under the debris, dead or alive. How can we fight armed men in these circumstances."

Earthquake Economics. (the Tribune, 31-01-01)

Three crippling weaknesses of Indian society have once again surfaced in the earthquake aftermath. One, the pathetic dependence on the bureaucracy for virtually everything. Tow, although India lives in its villages, the system thinks of them only in times of a major calamity or crime. That is why four days after a killer earthquake destroyed dozens of villages no help, not even food, has reached some of them. Three, despite a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and readiness to help, coordination skill is sadly lacking.

To take the last shortcoming first, two teams of doctors rushed to Gujarat on their own; the one from Mumbai carried a portable generator and the other surgical equipment and the Delhi team comprised specialists from the reputed AIIMS. The first returned after 2 days since no one directed the members to where their service was required. The Delhi team is rendering 'advanced first aid' for want of electricity and basic surgical material. This is stunning since the hospitals are overcrowded and the first part of rescue operation is to help the injured. What the Gujarat Government has done is to airlift the injured from Ahmedabad city to Mumbai and Pune for medical care. Now about villages. An NGO team from Chennai, with impeccable experience in dealing with emergencies, rushed to Bhuj uninvited only to find that relief supply will just ignore the villages since the drivers of the trucks and clerks escorting them had no idea that people, real people, once lived there and still live staring at the rubble. The bureaucracy by its training and professional requirement relies on past precedents for guidance. The file-pushers, even if the work is done these days on computer screen have lost their creative urges a long time ago.

Corporates offer expertise in relief work (Times of India, 1-02-01)

Corporate India is offering their expertise of management and project implementation to expedite relief work in the quake affected Gujarat. While a large number of industry captains continue to donate to relief funds, many of them are directly carrying out relief operations in the affected areas.
…Pepsi has already sent five trucks of mineral water, food materials, tarpaulins and tents in the Kutch region. While Pepsi is planning to adopt villages in and around Bhuj and Anjar, Duncan group has already started adopting individual families in the Gandhidham belt.
…..CII has asked member bodies to dispatch over hundred civil engineers to assess quake affected buildings. Already L&T and Hindustan construction has sent engineers to Gujarat.
….Trichy unit of BHEL has flown in concrete cutting machines to Gujarat for rescuing people trapped under rubbles. Hindustan Motors has sent earth moving excavators. Tatas have joined the relief efforts at the village level to rehabilitate people.

Unprepared govt undermines relief mobilisation (Times of India, 4-02-01)

A week after parts of Gujarat were pulverised, the enormity of the cost of reconstruction is beginning to become clear. But despite the huge mobilisation, there are doubts that relief will become a casualty of the inadequate state machinery.
……But the benefits of so large a mobilisation of resources have eluded many of the quake hit. The Gujarat government, still scrambling to establish a semblance of order, has failed to provide the machinery to channel the relief material that has come in.
Roads to Bhuj are jammed with truck loads of relief material. Material was for days being dumped in the towns and on the highways. Volunteers had no idea how to proceed beyond to the interiors. Villagers have had to come out to get relief rather than the relief reaching them.
Mahendra Pujara, an Ahmedabad based businessman, has been driving with trucks full of material for Halvad daily since the quake struck. With no idea of how to disburse relief, he finally tied up with the Rashtriya Swayamswevak Sangh, which has made much headway in relief in the interiors. The strong network of non-government organisations also reacted far better than official machinery, reaching the remote areas early and making contact.
While a daily influx of high-profile visitors has ensured that the government machinery has become vitalised in Bhuj, Bhachau and Anjar of Kutch, villages of Rajkot and Surendranagar districts a little over 50 km away are still awaiting help. Casualty figures are comparatively low here, but almost every house has collapsed or has deep cracks. Villagers here claim they have had to do all the rescue work, with the government sending in heavy equipment to clear the debris only after day six.
SK Nanda, coordinating relief operations from Ahmedabad, admits it took days for the government to begin even clearing operations in villages of Morbi and Malliya, after voluntary organisations had failed to reach some of them. Till then Kutch had been priority. Relief material has only now begun reaching these villages with private companies moving in to help.
Says Manjit Singh, deputy general manager, Hero Honda: "there has been no coordination with the government. We made our own survey of these villages and brought in blankets and tents." Theirs is the only relief to have reached here since the quake struck.
Lack of coordination has also resulted in lopsided relief. There is a glut of food and more is coming in. With thousands sleeping out in the cold, there is an exigent need for tents and blankets - over 100,000 tents are required immediately in Kutch alone. Gujarat's minister for water resources, Narottam Patel, in charge of relief work in Bhachau, says messages have been sent all around for tents. Fifty percent of the requisitioned number is on its way, more more is needed.
Amid all the chaos, Gujarat's army of big and small non-government organisations has industriously been making its way into the quake-hit interiors. Though they too admit to a lack of coordination, the efforts have been far better organised. It was the NGOs and unorganised volunteers who sustained the relief efforts in the early days, while the Army, with the help of foreign teams went about rescue.

Tale of two earthmovers and an inept relief call (Indian Express, 5-02-01)

The saga of two earthmovers from Japan give a fair idea of just how decisions on who gets what share of relief aid are being taken in Gujarat.
On Friday afternoon, the Hitachi earthmovers, costing Rs 50 Lakh each, arrived from Japan. Until Sunday evening, the precious equipment was lying unused, uncared for outside the Civil supplies Depot at Shahibaug, because an inept relief coordination cell couldn't decide what to do with them.
In fact, the association of Medical Doctors for Asia (AMDA) which brought the equipment started off on the wrong foot with authorities:when it wanted to give the earthmovers to an NGO, the Customs department asked them to pay duty. A precious 24 hours were lost in deciding who would receive the earthmovers. Sunday also slipped by as the machines kept shuttling between the international airport and the Gujarat State Civil Supplies deptot at Shahibaug since there was no crane to unload them. Until Sunday evening, the trucks carrying the earthmovers sittling forlornly at Shahibaug, waiting for a crane.

Red tape, poor distribution hit relief ooperation (Indian Express, 5-02-01)

If Tunisia bothered to check where the blankets and foodgrain they sent for the earthquake victims went, it would cause India a major embarrassment. The same is the case for relief material from Pakistan, Sweden or any foreign country, for that matter.
While a huge chunk of it is caught in the red tape in Ahmedabad, poor and skewed distribution is ensuring that the food, tents and blankets are not reaching the people who need them the most.
At the sprawling Lalan college complex in Bhuj on Sunday, a group of policemen tore off a few boxes of blankets, thoughtfully marked, "A gift from the people of Tunisia." They pulled out some blankets, gave some to two persons and kept a few aside for themselves.
A few metres away, three policemen at the behest of a sub inspector, were loading blankets and foodgrain from Tunisia, food packets from Norway and Kinley mineral water boxes into an autorickshaw. When asked where the stuff was going, one of the cops said, "Mamlatdar-Saheb has asked for it." Asked if it would go to the Mamlatdar's residence, he said, "No, no, this is being taken to the police station for the staff."
……a little further away, another cop, along with a civilian, was opening boxes of food packets from Norway. Standing on a heap of wheat from Tunisia, he said, "We are not taking them, we just wanted to see how it tastes. Why don't you also try?" A couple of feet away, there were boxes of sugar cubes thrown open.
Hundreds of tonnes of relief supplies are waiting for distribution at the Lalan college complex and even at the Bhuj airport. The packets may be safe at the airport, but not outside.
Lalit Mansingh, Chief Coordinator, Earthquake Relief, admits that tents, blankets and foodstuff are lying at the Bhuj airport and other places waiting to be lifted. "We are setting up community tents and have slowed down on giving individual tents as well as blankets. Some 1 lakh tents and many more blankets are coming. We will start distribution once we have stocked them up, but everyone will have shelter within the next two to three days,"he says………Till then, everything will wait to be picked up.
At the Sardar Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad, it is the red tape that has tied the helping hands. "Just yesterday, a blanket was found missing from the assignment. While we decided to overlook it and signed it in, 20 minutes after it was unloaded, we were asked to re-load it as those in charge of loading in onto the truck refused to accept it. This led to a lot of delay in dispatching it," said an official at the godown.
A number of tents, blankkets and drilling machines have been lying at the godown though they reached here more than a day ago. "There are generator sets which could be very useful in the affected areas, but they have simply been kept here. The cutters too could be useful, but it has been a number of days since they have been here", said a government official.
A Japanese delegation which landed with relief material worth over Rs 2 crore has similar woes to narrate. "We realised after landing here that the Government had mentioned consignee as the Gujarat government and we needed to get the name changed. But the officials here took two full days to explain it to us and sort out the matter," claimed a member of the delegation Prof Harishankara Sharma. "The material is off-loaded from the aircraft onto the trucks, this is then offloaded at the godown only to be loaded again based on instructions. We wonder why decisions can't be taken effectively and speedily, especially if it concerns things like tents and blankets," said a representative of an NGO.

Shattered Anjar Village learns how much self-Reliance can do. (the tribune, 5-02-01)
The day after the quake, it seemed they would take at least three months to clear the debris. But the town will be ready for rebuilding in the next 15 days. The success of a corporate like Reliance which adopted the town could well announce the beginning of a new trend in disaster management in India.

No bread? Let the quake-hit eat cake (Hindustan Times, 9-02-01)

It would make for a grand meal under most circumstances, and the quantities involved are generous enough to satiate the most cavernous of appetites. Kick off the day with Kellogg's cornflakes, Brazilian Java coffee and a cartonful of exotic-sounding fruit. For the main meal, there's Maggi asparagus soup, Danish luncheon meat and sardines done in sunflower oil, duly washed down with fruit juice of choice. Round it off with pear jams and pineapple slices preserved in syrup and African raisins for dessert, and most folks would be reasonable content with the diet.
Unless you are a victim of the January 26 earthquake that devastated Gujarat, and this assortment of food items…sent by concerned nations in the way of relief material for the quake's survivors..is to be disbursed by the country's babudom. In which case, the goodies are grounded in godowns while their intended beneficiaries go about as hungry and miserable as ever.
A part of the problem, apparently, is the language barrier: the food packets apparently have many languages as diverse as Swedish, Arabic, Danish and Spanish, the languages spoken in the respective countries of origin.
But the bigger problem is the fact that the food in question is alien to the natives taste-buds and result being that for the last seven days, quake survivors in Kutch are being 'force-fed' the most they could ever have imagined.
"Nobody has asked for these food items," said Manoj Dakshini, who heads the inventory control supply depot set up at the Lallan college grounds in Bhuj. "Soup powder, for instance,is of no use to those who until the earthquake subsisted on two frugal meals a day".

50 high-rise bldgs in Bhuj have collapsed (Times of India, 13-02-01)

….meanwhile, efforts are being made to provide relief to around 35,000 quake-affected in Morbi, Maliya and Wakaner areas by arranging makeshift shelters. Forty wagons loaded with tin sheets have been allocated for Rajkot district in this regard.
The steel Authority of India have allocated similar 40 wagons of tin sheets for the affected people. It is learnt that each family would be provided with six to eight tin sheets. This would enable the district administration to provide 'semi-houses' for the affected till pucca houses are constructed for them.

1 lakh more tents needed in Kutch (Times of India, 13-02-01)

Kutch still needs one lakh more tents, officer on special duty S Jagdeeshan has said. Out of the total demand of around two lakh tents, so far only 50 percent have reached the quake-hit district.
Giving this information to the Times of India on phone on Sunday, Jagdeeshan said people continued to live in the open, weathering biting cold. Even people who had not lost their homes, preferred the safety of tents as aftershocks continued to rock the region.

He said as many as 70,000 tents were sent to Kutch by foreign agencies while another 40,000 were nation's help to the affected people.

Food is plenty, but hungry still going without it (Times of India, 14-02-01)

Scene 1 (Inside the district collectors office): Yet another meeting is under way, but this one witnesses heated exchanges. Drawing up plans and more plans is all that we have been doing since January 26. Where is the implementation? People know we have tents with us, why don't we give it to them? Where is the foodgrain to be given out? The people are fast losing patience. We might have to face serious consequences, lashes out an IAS officer after being gheraoed on Saturday by an irate mob at the Lalan College relief centre
A senior coordinator of relief operations tries to pacify him, OK, let us put up community tents. But make sure you take the local corporators along and get their consent on deciding the sites for setting up community tents. A few eyebrows are raised at this suggestion, but the relief coordinator is adamant: No more discussion on this topic. We have to do the job in this manner so let us get it done now.

* Scene 2: An NGO coordination centre the Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan just outside the Bhuj collector's office is being thronged by people from Bhuj and far off corners of Kutch seeking food and tents. Work is disrupted as a man in a spotless white outfit walks in: I want rice, wheat, milk packets and water in bulk to be distributed amongst the people rendered homeless. I have contacts in high places in Gandhinagar, so better get on the job immediately, he says authoritatively. A heated discussion ensues and the man in white goes off shouting threats at the coordinator.

BHUJ: Amidst decomposed bodies, rubble and the overpowering stench of rotting flesh, politicking and bureaucratic wrangles throw relief operations (even in Bhuj and its fringes) out of gear.
NGOs like the Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan, which was coordinating the distribution of relief material in Bhuj and Kutch, have withdrawn from the operation due to frequent string-pulling and political interference.
We washed our hands of relief because political pressure took material to areas where help had already reached, said a member of the NGO Coordination Centre.
Purushottam Thakkar lay prone in front of the collectorate gate on Saturday daring hassled policemen to open fire at him and imploring bureaucrats to provide him some food and water. Thousands will die of hunger and cold. Sir, please give us some foodgrain to take back home. Our children cry out with hunger, please help us, he pleaded with the senior police officials and bureaucrats whom he had prevented from entering the district collectorate.
Thakkar, a resident of Magwana village about 50 km from Bhuj in western Kutch, is one of the thousands who are thronging the Bhuj collectorate for foodstuff and tents. But little has been forthcoming.
Kanji Jaipal of adjoining Varmshila village, like Thakkar, is paying the price for some getting more than their due. We are reduced to begging while villages like Jiyapur, Wadhwa and Sukhpur have more than they require due to political reasons.
Back in Bhuj, Vinod Soni, who owned a flourishing jewellery shop in the Kamsara Bazaar in the Walled City here, now stays out in the open in Madhapar, next to the highway outside Bhuj. Everyday I am made to run between Lalan College and the collectorate, but neither tent nor food has come my way, says Soni. He and his friends have gone without food for six days now.
While Thakkar, Soni and the hundreds of homeless in Bhuj and Kutch await relief, Ratnal village (near Bhuj) has enough. Here children can be seen spraying each other with mineral water pouches and playing with torches. Ample clothing and Army camps keep the villagers in Ratnal more than happy. Vasanbhai Ahir, MLA of Anjrar taluka, stays here. We do not have any problems whatsoever, says Jesabhai Yadav of Ratnal.
Says two-day-old Kutch collector, Anil Mukim: We are doing our best. Very soon, free rations will be available at all PDS shops in Bhuj and tents will also be set up. But, a little time is required to do all this.
Sudhir Vyas adds: While Kutch faces the problem of plenty with relief material pouring in from all over the world, faulty distribution and an administration that continues to grope in the dark about where and how to distribute relief combine to result in some having plenty while others are deprived of even the basics.
The misery of the quake-affected is compounded by the unrealistic approach of government officials. The state civil supplies department, which has been distributing relief material, prefers to stick to the rulebook even in such difficult times.
Take the case of Desalpar village, 20 km from Bhuj and one of the badly affected villages. The civil supplies department has decreed that only those with ration cards would be given relief supplies. The village folk virtually beg to be given some grain as their cards lie buried under debris. But alas, the officials remain unmoved.
When an official was asked how it was possible to produce a card that lay under debris, he said: How do we know that the people belong to this village and not anywhere else.
After a virtual altercation with the official, it was decided to summon the fair-price-shop owner (he was alive, fortunately) and ask him to identify the villagers standing in queue. The shop owner Haresh Atmaram readily obliged.
The villagers said this was the first time they had got any supplies since the quake.
Some villages like Bhadli, Vadhya, Tharwada and Kotda are yet to receive any foodgrain, leave aside relief material.
Interestingly, while TV crew from around the world and reporters have managed to reach every nook and corner of Kutch, state government officials prefer to sit in Bhuj.

A quick tour of the quake-affected regions gives one the inescapable feeling that the state administration still lies paralysed by shock. There is all round chaos at the temporary premises of the Bhuj collectorate.
In the midst of all this, politics rears its head. Some senior BJP leaders of Saurashtra are sending relief material to Patel-dominated villages in the Morbi-Maliya region to the exception of others.

Gujarat limping back to normal (Times of India, 14-02-01)

The situation is returning to some sort of normalcy in Gujarat, says the Union government. But while plans for rehabilitation and reconstruction are now being thought of, what the state still needs is shelter material - tents, galvanised iron sheets, plastic sheets.
…..Nine-tenths of the electricity feeders in the Kuchch area are now operational, shops and business establishments have begun opening up, as have ration shops. Power has been restored in 892 of 925 villages, 147 telephone exchanges are now functional and attempts are being made to put right as many of the old numbers as possible.
Piped water supply has been restored to nine towns. In Kandla, berths 6-10 are functioning, while the damage has been assessed in berths 1-5 and officials hope these will be partly functional soon.
…… Meanwhile, the Gujarat government says it no longer needs food, clothes or medical supplies. In a statement here, it said it will not, therefore, accept contributions of food, clothes, medical supplies, distilled water and such items after Friday. Those wishing to contribute may do so by checque, to the Gujarat Chief Minister's Relief Fund. Shelter material such as tents and blankets will be accepted.

Just a phone call set the ball rolling (Times of India, 14-02-01)

It's evident everywhere in Gujarat. The corporate sector has risen to the occasion in quake-ravaged Gujarat faster than the government's lethargic machinery.
Even before the benumbed government woke up to the enormity of the disaster, the corporate sector was at work. People from companies had already arrived in the devastated areas and started rescue and relief when all the government could do was just try to assess the dimensions of the calamity.
Companies like Reliance were in the field within eight hours of the quake. In contrast, the government spent Day One trying to find out where, other than Ahmedabad and Bhuj, the quake had left devastation in its wake. Reliance and Cadila were among the first to send medical teams to some of the area.
Not that the government lacked intent to reach out to the people: but it was stymied by systemic malfunctions, delaying the entire operations. A senior government official admitted they couldn't take any decisions even in such emergency because sanctions had to come from the top.
…..In telling contrast, just a phone call from the the management got the lower rungs in the corporate sector moving. A senior Reliance official said that within hour of the quake, company chairman Dhirubhai Ambani gave clear instructions that local Reliance units in Gujrat should put all their resources into rescue work. The official said that this ``empowerment of the ground level staff'' to take decisions was the key to quick service the company could render to the quake victims. ``Whether it is disaster management or implementing a project, empowerment is the key,'' he said.
Even the private sector did face difficulties, mostly of the government's making. There was chaos as there was no coordination machinery. By the time the government realised this and set up a coordination centre, three valuable days were lost. Because of delayed action, all the private sector could effectively do in the first three days was mobilise relief, not rescue.

  • Absence of a management plan, lack of coordination, top-down decision making process, bureaucracy, red-tapism, corruption, lack of ethics & responsibility and neglect of villages are highlighted as the main problems concerning disaster management in general.
  • Lack of understanding of local cultural context by the donor agencies in charge of relief and rescue is another issue in focus.
  • Lethargy on part of the government and the resulting public mistrust is very much evident. On the other hand, private organisations and various NGOs have been more successful in reaching the victims and providing effective help.
  • The private initiatives towards disaster management though may attract lot of resources but the market driven approach may leave 'marginalised and weaker sections' out of the relief and rehabilitation benefits. Big corporates like reliance had to leave the work of clearing the rubble in Anjar due to problems with the government regarding payment for the contract. (this happened after the above news article appeared). Local participation could have enabled this process in a sustainable way.

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