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Monday, Jan 03, 2005

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Victims not getting what they need, say relief workers

Our Bureau

Chennai , Jan. 2

CLEAN drinking water, medicines, shelter and communication are among the list of priorities for the tsunami victims. But what the victims are getting is not always what they need, according to those involved in relief and rehabilitation work.

The Tamil Nadu Government officials and NGOs involved in assisting and rehabilitating those hit by last week's tsunami have called for greater coordination between the agencies and urged donors to ensure that they give what the victims really need. Work should not be duplicated or wasted, they said.

NGO representatives felt that fieldwork was best left to the local organisations, who could identify the needy. With the immediate need for emergency work behind, it is now important for targeted and sustained support to help the survivors return to normalcy.

At a meeting of NGOs to assess the relief and rehabilitation initiatives to aid the tsunami victims, the Tamil Nadu Chief Officer in-charge of coordinating NGOs and Donors, Mr C.V. Sankar, said that the State Government has committed over Rs 120 crore to more than 66,000 fishermen. It has also notified 13 coastal districts as tsunami-affected. The Government is continuously announcing various packages to support the victims of the disaster.

The donor agencies should ensure that the efforts are not duplicated. While there was no financial constraint, it is important that those really affected are identified and helped, he said. He urged the field-level associations to help identify the victims.

For instance, according to Prof Kalayanaraman, of the Indian Institute of Technology - Madras, in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, where most of the relief and rehabilitation work is being handled by the Defence personnel and the coast guard, it is water purification tablets that the residents of isolated areas need. Communication — even a simple short-wave receiver — is a problem. They need accurate information because rumours and fears are rampant. They need to keep track of what is going on around them.

Satellite phones are also needed at the operational headquarters. Diesel-generating sets are also sorely needed to keep communication lines open. On the islands, diesel-generating sets are the only source of power and these have been lost to the waves, he said.

Ms Sushma Iyengar, who has worked with the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority, said it was important that the State Government set itself a target for the duration of relief efforts. Experience has taught that extended assistance makes the victims slow to start supporting themselves.

At the meeting organised by the Bhoomika Trust, a funding and relief agency, other representatives suggested that the donors should leave the ground-level management and disbursement of support to the local organisations. Sometimes whole truckloads of much-needed supplies are held up for a day because someone from the donating company or agency is not available to accompany the truck.

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