1. Situation on the Ground:
Janpath Citizen's Initiative
Over 200 NGOs of Gujarat have come together under the aegis of Janpath Citizen's Initiative to support voluntary relief efforts in Kutch and other affected districts of Gujarat.
Some of the member NGOs of this network are Janpath (a network of 150 NGOs in Gujarat), Pravah (a network of 40 NGOs working on drinking water issues), Navsarjan (an NGO working with Dalits in 2000 villages of Gujarat), Utthan, Gantar, Janvikas, Naya Marg, Drishti Media Collective, Anandi, and several others.
Gagan, Stalin and Geet returned from Kutch around 1 pm on 28 January 2001. Theirs was the first first-hand account available to the concerned citizens and NGOs of Ahmedabad of the situation there, as well as the first contact made with the NGO community there.
The southern road approach to Kutch - the Indira Bridge - has suffered extensive damage, and was opened to light traffic only recently. Until then, the only way in and out of Kutch by road was the eastern approach, via Radhanpur.
Upto Samkhiyali, most structures visible from the road showed some signs of damage: cracks, etc. However, after Samkhiyali the situation changed dramatically: no structures visible were standing at all - all were reduced to rubble. It was only on approaching Bhuj that some partially-standing structures were visible once again.
The team drove through Bhachau and found the entire town razed to the ground, and the glaring absence of any relief effort - either voluntary or state.
Arriving in Bhuj just after sunset, the team found the entire city devastated and the entire populace living in the outside, braving the bitter cold. There was no electricity and there were only four gen-sets working in the town. Aftershocks and tremors persisted and still continued to bring down structures.
The affected people have chosen to remain close to their destroyed habitats, often hampering relief efforts - because they don't want to leave their buried belongings and family members.
The news from the district is that the northern and eastern regions have been devastated, whereas the southern/coastal regions have been relatively spared. However, Gandhidham city has also suffered extensive devastation. Anjar, another major town, has also been virtually flattened.
All medical facilities & systems - including the district-level government facility - are destroyed, leaving the armed forces the only medical facility available to the people. The landmark Jubilee Grounds at Bhuj has been converted into a public hospital, and minor surgeries are also being carried out there.
Though almost all KMVS and Sahjeevan staff are safe (except for one KMVS field worker who is missing) they all have suffered some form of material or human loss in the quake, and as a result that is affecting their ability to re-group quickly as a strong volunteer force - as they had done early on during the cyclone disaster - under the aegis of the Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan.
The state machinery suffered the same fate and besides the high-up officials, there is virtually no workforce available. As a result, the state is turning towards the Abhiyan for every form of guidance and assistance.
The armed forces have extended medical help to the best of their limited ability, but are understandably reluctant to divert any more human resource towards relief work.
There is no power supply whatsoever, so all work has to be done in the daylight hours. The officials claim it would be partially restored within the next 5 days, but the team didn't think this feasible. Gensets, as reported, are virtually non-existent.
Food, provisions, clothing and water are in short supply, but indications are that huge amounts of these are already on their way to Kutch - the key issue now being ensuring their proper and efficient distribution - more so, given the non-existent state machinery. Even as massive aid is already rolling in, near-riot situations are shaping up at points, where dispossessed people are diverting supplies and equipment by force.
2. Support to Abhiyan network:
The Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan is gearing itself to cope with yet another disaster. However, this time around, several of the volunteers' own families and homes have been affected, making the regrouping process slower.
Our priority then becomes enabling the Abhiyan to become fully-operational, and then support it.
The Abhiyan has specifically insisted that people should arrive in Kutch, in a state of complete self-sufficiency - at least during the initial stages.
3. Action plan
1. It was decided that the Janvikas 24-hour control room would be a common facility available to all NGOs and concerned citizens to route relief operations to all affected districts in Gujarat. The Gantar control room would also start functioning 24 hours and coordinate in tandem with the Janvikas control room.
2. The most urgent action for Kutch is to provide the Abhiyan volunteers a 'home base'. Towards this, two jeeps are to leave with enough supplies and people to set up a fully-functional camp for the Abhiyan team.
2. To send a team 20 competent volunteers capable to taking on key coordination and supervisory tasks and a team of 40 volunteers who can do basic leg-work. All these volunteers would be required to commit minimum 7 days in Kutch.
3. The next most urgent task is to support Abhiyan to set up 6 refugee camps in Bhuj city, equipped with tents (just the basic tarpaulin + bamboo + rope structures), blankets, woollens (caps, mufflers and socks), medical facilities and various other supplies.
4. To facilitate better coordination, a office is being set up at Dhrangadhra.
5. A satellite phone facility (and ham radio) for the Abhiyan team is being tried for. Initially, a daily trip by road would be the only and best form of staying in touch with Abhiyan.
6. Abhiyan has requested that the media carry a key message "Send Supplies, Not People" be widely flashed in the mass media.
7. 4 jeeps and 4 matadors are being arranged on a priority basis by Janvikas for the Abhiyan. Uthan (1) and Unnati (2) also committed vehicles for the relief operations.
4. Individual Responsibilities:
1. Arranging Supplies: Raju Purohit supported by Kiran and Shefali
2. Supplies Management: Mahiar Contractor
3. Volunteer Recruitment: Sudershan Iyengar
4. Media Advocacy: Digant Oza
5. Website/Information Updates: Anurag (Action Aid)/Arvind