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Aid starts flowing into TN

December 29, 2004 00:40 IST

Two days after the earthquake-generated tsunamis slammed into Tamil Nadu, killing thousands and rendering many more homeless, aid is flowing into the state.

"Thirteen districts, from Chennai to Kanyakumari, have been affected," Joint Relief Commissioner Sivakumar told on Tuesday. "A population of around four lakh has suffered."

He said the government has set up 250 relief camps across the state and pressed into service around 250 medical vans.

The Jayalalithaa government has announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of those killed.

But there is a problem: most of the poor people -- and it is the poor who have suffered the most -- have no bank accounts, nor have they ever seen such a 'huge sum' of money.

"We have given an initial Rs 15,000 to many of the victims' families so that they can take care of their immediate needs. The rest will be paid later," Sivakumar said.

"If we give them cash [Rs 1 lakh] what will they do with it?" he asked.

The issue of rehabilitation, of giving them alternative accommodations, will come much later, he added.

The amount of aid coming in is not a problem -- Dr Manmohan Singh has already announced an immediate release of Rs 500 crore from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.
The state governments and Union territories that will share this money will give general guidelines on how to spend them. Plus there are a lot of charities, nongovernmental organisations and individuals who are contributing.

The hitch is the manner in which the aid is being distributed.

"We must have a disaster management system," Venkat, president, Rotary Club of Madras Central Aditya, said at Srinivasapuram in the city, where around 70 people, mostly fishermen, lost their lives.

"They should meet at a central place where TVs and telephones are available. All relief material should reach that place and distributed from there."

There is confusion everywhere with everyone doing his/her own thing, he said.

According to him, the needs of the victims change everyday. "First day it is food and shelter. Second day it is clothing. From the third day, it is immunisation, vaccination, etc. And from the fourth day the authorities should think of rehabilitation."

C K Narasimha Rao, also of Rotary, said. "Distribution of food and clothes is a major problem. Somebody should take charge of the coordination."

Organisations like Rotary, Lions, Free Masons should be able to give all their stuff at one place, he added.

"Right now all these fishermen have lost their nets," Venkat said. "So we are trying to provide them with new ones.

"Plus, we are giving them kits containing a stove, six plates, a glass and about 3-4 other utensils for immediate survival."

There is also the issue of the unequal pattern of distribution. "Sometimes one person gets a lot of things and others don't get anything. We don't know. We just get mobbed wherever we go," Rao said.

At Srinivasapuram, people were literally climbing over one another to reach for clothes.

The atmosphere was highly tense. Those who could muscle their way in got more, while the weak had to beg.

A fight also broke out between two men over a shirt, and their families nearly got sucked into the quarrel. But a couple of women dragged them apart and a semblance of peace was restored.

Rao criticised the government's handling of the whole affair. "Wherever we have gone we have not seen much. There is no streamlining of activities."

"Now look at these policemen here," Venkat said. "They have no clue what to do. They just stand there from morning to evening. Yesterday [Monday] they were all on the beach looking at the sea as though it is going to come at them and they will beat it back with their batons."


Salil Kumar in Chennai