The Bad and The Ugly

A number of disturbing (and predictable, and even more disturbing because of the predictability) practices were brought to our attention at a coordination meeting of NGOs working in tsunami relief and rehabilitation in Trichy (Tiruchchirapalli) on January 10, 2005.

  • Government estimates of death, missing and damage are still much lower than those found by local NGOs in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry during rapid situation and impact assessments conducted January 5th. and 6th.
  • Political parties have entered the picture, pressuring the Government to provide assistance to unaffected survivors.
  • Goverment policies change every day, with politicians bypassing agreements made between the NGOs and government officials.
  • “Hooligans” who during the disbursement of relief supplies diverted trucks and took the materials for their own use, are now demanding claims for rehabilitation. Apparently, in each village, whether affected or not, there are signs that read: “We also need relief.”
  • The Catholic diocese in Kanyakumari is not allowing other NGOs to work with the affected fisherfolk. (Most of the fisherfolk in Kanyakumari are Catholic.)
  • There is rampant discrimination by the Government, the Church, and by the fisherfolk communities against the Dalit and Muslim survivors.
    • Dalit communities are not being enumerated by the Government, with officials refusing to record the dead or missing. (“Your people have gone somewhere else. Wait, they will come.”)
    • Relief is not reaching the survivors, and those that have tried to join camps occupied by the fisherfolk have been forcibly removed. For the most part, Dalit survivors have had to go and stay with scattered relatives.
    • No infrastructure repair is taking place in former Dalit hamlets – there is no power or water supply, and small roads are not being rebuilt.
    • The dead of the fisherfolk are being buried in Dalit lands.
  • Dalits were brought in from inland areas to clear debris and dead bodies, but were not given any protective clothing or equipment, not even gloves and facemasks.
  • NGOs that are providing direct relief without coordinating with local government officials or with the other NGOs are causing problems, such as going in with insufficient supplies because they do not have the right statistics, or by distributing cash payments for damage, as opposed to replacing or repairing equipment and supplies.

This is just a short summary of an incredibly complicated situation. I hope to write more about other issues such as land, environment, and economics in future postings

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