India Uncut

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Monday, January 03, 2005

Despatches 18: “This will also slip away”

“When the pressure on the system is so high that it cannot cope, that is when it breaks down,” says Dr Mahendra. “And that is where the NGOs come in as a prop.”

Dr Mahendra says this in the context of what we have told him about the chaos at Nagapattinam. Of course, a breakdown of the system does not mean that the components of it don’t try to put things together, but that is exactly what is happening in many parts of the state, where government officials are busier looking after VIPs than with relief efforts. But not so here.

Dr Mahendra, who works for the Indian Red Cross, is the first aid worker we have come across so far who has good things to say about the government – and it all is all because of the man in charge, the sub-collector Rajendra Ratnoo.

“Ratnoo is doing a wonderful job,” says Dr Mahendra. “He is focussed, clear about what he needs to do, and is coordinating the NGOs very well, providing everything we ask for.”

So is Dr Mahendra optimistic about long-term rehabilitation, if the government, at least in this district, seems serious about it? He shakes his head.

“I have been to Orissa [where there was a cyclone in 1999], I have been to Bhuj [earthquake in 2001], and from those experiences I can tell you, long-term rehabilitation is a problem. See, now the tsunami has just happened, there is the press everywhere, the government everywhere, volunteers everywhere. But as time passes, after the immediate emergency needs of the survivors are taken care of, most of them will go away.

“This will also slip away from public memory.”
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