India Uncut

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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Despatches 10: The most affected

At Pattinacheri, another affected village, we run into Srinivasu, a relief worker whose day job is of municipal solid waste consultant in a town called Udumalapettai. He has some thoughts on how relief should be managed.

"First of all," he says, "there should be a central unit in each affected area from which all the relief work can be coordinated. The way things are now, many people want to volunteer, and turn up to do so, but nobody is giving them guidance on what to do. A central authority is needed.

"Secondly," and here he echoes Madhu Kumar, "they need counselling. So many of them have lost everything, they don't want to live. So many women, caught in the water, lost all their clothes, and feel deeply humiliated at being seen in that state. They suffer psychological damage."

"Thirdly, the relief should go only to needy people. Many of the most affected people are not physically fit enough to go out and ask for help. Many of the people who go for relief aren't affected at all, but greedy."

I quite understand what he is saying. All day we have seen truck after truck stop at arbitary points, at which point a crowd suddenly gathers around the truck, and those who can push the best and shout the loudest get the best of whatever is being given out. Foodgrains, rice, and so on.

At one point we saw a fight between two women. A truck stopped at the village road for two minutes, threw out a few packets of rice, and then left. Two women straight away started fighting, and a gentlemen by the road told us that they were fighting because one of them thought she was more deserving of the rice than the other. "People are hoarding relief material," he told us. "The really needy people are not getting any of this."

Of course, the logistics of finding the "really needy people" isn't easy, but many of the workers in the relief trucks that come this way couldn't be bothered. They throw their relief material out, feel good about themselves, and drive away to do good elsewhere.
amit varma, 10:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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