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SWATI - Society For Women's Action And Training Initiative
Source: EARRS Documentation February 20

Emerging issues / Needs in the earthquake affected blocks of Patdi, Halvad, Lakhtar and Dhrangadhra blocks of Surendranagar district.

SWATI - Society For Women's Action And Training Initiative - has been providing its relief and rehabilitation work through detailed assessments and appropriate distribtion, so far in more than a hundred villages in the Patdi, Halvad, Lakhtar and Dhranghadra blocks. Of these, 60 villages have sustained over 50% damage to property.

Some of the needs and issues that emerge out of this assessment as well as out of our constant interaction with the people in the quake affected villages of the four blocks are summarized below:

Emerging Issues

While much effort is being put in and there are many good officers in the government as well as NGOs working in the area, the magnitude of the relief and rehabilitation work and it's speed does not match the size and extent of the calamity. The information gap between the government, NGO effort and especially affected persons in the village is very large.

a.. In the immediate future food security continues to remain an issue. There is gong to be little employment available in the area in the next six months. Government would need to step in with relief works as quickly as possible.

b.. The main activity of the government had been to conduct initially a preliminary survey followed by a technical team. The lack of completion of the technical survey and the total lack of information has left many affected households not knowing whether they could start self help in removing debris and rubble and where possible start rebuilding their houses.

c.. The other relief measure that the government has given is a cash dole to the affected persons and families, but the basis of this calculation is not clear. Also since different persons are getting different amounts, the lack of information and consistency creates a situation where the village wonders why different people have got different amounts- some people have received money for a week and others for a period of 15 days.

d.. It must be acknowledged that the compensation offered by the government for those who had died had been given in a speedy way.

e.. The most important relief and rehabilitation items- tents for shelter, blankets, food, clothes, medicines (in that order) has predominantly been supplied by NGOs and other civil society groups. For reasons best known to the government itself, it has taken an unexplainably long time to reach out to the people.

f.. A matter of concern is that while there is a lot of attention focused by the NGOs, civil society organizations and the government on villages which have suffered extensive damage, but those that have a relatively small number of houses affected, are being neglected. These families so far have received very little or no assistance at all from any of the above institutions. They are insecure, angry and in need of urgent attention in the form of relief.

g.. The Saurashtra region has been fortunate to not have too many persons suffering loss of lives. As a result the quake related trauma /shock which is extensively seen in areas where people experience loss of kith and kin or just the fact that they witness mass casualities, was not to be seen in this area in the early days. However loss of ones housing, belongings and the trauma of being homeless and helpless is now being seen extensively. Psychological counseling and support would need to be provided in the time to come.

h.. While the area does not have many unattended quake related injury, people are now beginning to fall ill due to exposure to natural elements. The region's proximity to desert means that nights are very cold (with the mercury dropping below 05 degrees centigrade) with strong breeze accompanying them.

i.. Loss of occupation and employment is another area of concern. The two main occupations in this region are Salt farming and rain-fed subsistence agriculture. Both of these were at an all time low. The people reported economic deprivation and inability to rise from the situation because this being the second year of drought, agricultural wage and employment is low. And since the market for salt is down the saltpan workers too also reported being out of work. A poignant response often heard from the people was "we have been without work, sitting at home getting supplies on credit for the past three months." The situation does not improve till monsoon. At the same time labor from other parts of the state has migrated to this area. In the few villages where agricultural wage employment is available the wage rate is as low as Rupees twenty. The people feel that the government should start relief works in each village immediately as part of it's quake relief operations. A suggestion that has been mooted is that the government should get people to provide labour for building their own houses and pay the for the same by way of relief.

j.. The most important relief and rehabilitation measure required just now is shelter. Temporary shelters in the form of tents or tarpaulin has reached in several villages. Clearing the rubble is an enormous task and needs to be done very sensitively involving the local persons as there is still possibilities of recovering several household items and building material that can be used. The immediate need is to complete the survey and to communicate very clearly what assistance government is going to give. Water proof semi permanent shelters will have to be built before the monsoon.at a consevative estimate that is at least 25,000 families. We need to muster all the help support and expertise we can and the government needs to operationalise the policy it has announced-quickly

Conditions differ from village to village and at times even between communities. The government machinery works best when it has to implement a uniform and rather clearly defined scheme. In situations where sustained long term rehabilitation has to be carried out which is specific to needs and resource assessment at each village and where discretion has to be used, voluntary efforts working in close coordination with the government have been much more effective.