Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Onsite Update :: from Siddhamma in Killai

Dear friends,

There may be no updates for the next 2-3 days from Siddhamma since she might not be near a phone in this time. The call was somewhat chaotic so I apologize if the notes are incoherent.

Siddhamma was on her way to Killai when I called her. Information from Killai that one person has got diarrhea. He has been admitted in the hospital. But, we are worried that this may be pointing towards Cholera. One group of volunteers already travelled to Cuddalore overnight to reaffirm treatment of drinking water with the ppl there.

Q: How long does it take to travel to Cuddalore?
A: Around 4 hrs travel in bus. They must have reached there. There are no cellphone towers in the area and communication is a little difficult.

Q: Who are the volunteers who left?
A: Krishnan and some other members of the unorganized workers group.

Medha Patkar a volunteer from NAPM has also arranged for a group of doctors to come to Killai. She will also be coming to understand the situation of the land. She has experience in the area of land displacement and this would help.

The other development is that they have now got an appointment with the Collectors office to try to explain the situation of the land to the govt for tomorrow. We are also hoping to meet all the villages to confirm what needs to be conveyed.

One large issue in Pillainedu is still that the bodies of ppl have not been found. The villagers are putting a lot of effort to find them and have put in much of their funds too. . It is possible that the bodies are stuck in the muddy/marshy areas and hence have not floated up. We are working on trying to shake the mud and hoping that the bodies would float up. Namita has suggested that she can help with arranging for construction companies to help with this.

The other bigger issue of communities being divided is becoming very clear in the distribution of relief. The prawn farming owners are being very smart and talking to the village heads of some communities and continuing to pit villages against each other. Especially the communities that are supported by prawn farming owners and
those who are not. This needs to be handled very carefully. There was already a divide between the communities as far as prawn farming was concerned. This was slowly starting to fade out in the face of the natural disaster and ppl were starting to talk to each other. However, now with the relief materials coming up some of the stronger/supported communities are hoarding the resources and not
letting it reach to the other villages. There are many outside charity organizations, drug companies, volunteer groups who want to help, but have no clue of the local situation who just bring lorry loads of items to a central village, in this case MGR Viddal. The village ppl tell them that they will take care of distribution, but don't.

Only ppl who have already been working with communities and know of their presence are able to get through to them. The excess AID is actually hurting the ppl rather than helping them.

The anger is starting to build up between the communities. These ppl are a little rough and we really need to be careful to ensure that there are no clashes in these area.

Q: How are you doing?
A: This is very draining on us. We are used to talking and handling difficult situations, but we are starting having difficulty in talking we are starting to choke up or even break down in tears. This has never happened to me before. I think I'm not as strong as I though I was. Geetha just got back from these villages and trying to council the ppl and is in the same state.

I'm happy I have had you to talk to everyday and put out some of my burden on you. I'm also very proud to be associated with Asha in which the volunteers are so easy to work communite to and who actually want to know the issues of ppl and not just blindly do charity work.

This is not the first time that Asha has helped the ppl. Last year when over 1000 bonded laborers were released there was such a large need for immediate relief and rehab efforts. SKI had then helped out to take care of them immediately and also worked on the rehab requirements.
[Note to Asha vols: It's great that we have responded in times of need, etc and some of the info many of us may also not be aware of, but I included this info to somehow point out that over the last 4 yrs of my limited contact and the last few days of calls with Siddhamma I've never heard her so emotional.]

She then gave an example of an acquaintance who have formed an NGOs committee for relief. They are all service mided, but not grassroot organizations. They called her yesterday and asked her to attend their meeting. She dropped in briefly. They wanted her to tie up with them in providing relief since they did not have penetration and said that the villagers don't use what they bought. The NGOs committe had applied and got a grant of 1 crore in materials. However, instead of consulting the ppl
on what their requirements are they have gone ahead put what they think is important in the proposal but this is not useable by the ppl.

Q: Can you give me specific examples?
A: The two primary things bought were clothes and tents.
- There are many piles of clothes that have been donated by ppl and this is
not a requirement.
- The issue of housing is not of tents, but where the ppl are to put up these
tents and stay. i.e. that of land.

Q: How about food? You could have used food.
A: This is the problem. They did not include any food in their budget.

Q: Can't you guide the orgs?
A: It's not like they really want to listen to us, they want us to distribute what they had on their budget and it just becomes an argument. There are too many issues of the ppl to deal with and I don't have the bandwidth for this.

Q: Maybe we do. Can you give us a list of orgs in different areas. Some of them might have US counterparts and we can try to see if can help them understand the needs.
A: This would be great. We are also worried about all the efforts that are going waste in the name of relief. They do not revel the sources of funding, but I will try to find out.

Q: What are the relief and rehab efforts you are looking at.
A: For relief we are giving 50 kg of rice for 2 weeks for each family. There are 300 families. The rehab should really come from the govt and we would like this to happen. It is our govts responsibility and we do not want them to shirk it. We are collecting information of what is needed in terms of rehab and will be presenting it to the govt in the coming weeks.

Q: Has the govt plan of land become any more clearer?
A: Yes, they don't want to build a seashore estate. They have decided to rebuild
the houses in an area 10 km from the sea shore. The villagers have found land 2-3 km off the coast which was not touched by the Tsunami and would like that used instead.

Q: I just wanted to remind you to send me info of the survey of villages in Pulligat.
A: I know I need to do this, but it has been very difficult for me to get around to doing this. There is no one to work on the computer. Can you help me with finding someone for the same?

Q: How about Satyapriya?
A: Yes, I forgot. I will get in touch with her.
[Followup: Confirmed with Satyapriya she said she will send the info once Siddhamma comes back from Cuddalore in 2-3 days.]

Q: Also wanted to remind you of info of ppl effected by bribes, etc by govt officials.
A: Geetha has the info and is collating it. Pls get in touch with her.
[Followup: I missed her in transit yesterday and couldn't get through in the morning. Will follow up on 4 jan 05.]

Q: Did Geetha convey any info from Naggapattam?
A: Based on her experiences Geetha has made 15 suggestions/observations to what the government of what can be done for the ppl there. One need for the ppl in Naggi district in Naggapattnam is is alternative accomodation. Ppl don't want to stay
in the immediate area of the large number of mass burrials. Ppl are emotionally broken, they have stopped crying or taliing and need councling. Not sure if the need is for professional psychiatrist. Just need understanding human-beings who can be with them. Even after four days they just wanted Geetha to just be there with them and not leave them.

Plan of the govt is that they are distributed rice, but they had not utensils to keep them. 2500 ppl were not identified. Some families have not been claimed. Mass burial. Youth have been very helpful. Local ppl idenfiy areas where there were houses from blueprints and the youth come with machines and dig to find the bodies.

Q: Are these pukka or kachha houses?
A: Kachha houses were completely washed off. The Pukka houses have collapsed with ppl burried inside.
[I need to follow up with Geetha tomorrow.]