India: ActionAid teams supplying relief in Tamil Nadu
The ActionAid team in Tamil Nadu thanks all of you from across the world for your support of the relief work.
It is now six days after the killer tsunami hit the coastal villages of South India. We are at Mukhukuturai village, on the banks of a river that swelled up on the fateful Sunday, killing four and rendering everyone homeless.
"I was cooking on Sunday morning when I heard this loud roar from the sea. I came out of my hut to see a huge wall of water rushing towards us. I started running in fear, towards the road. We ran and swam for four kilometres to reach safety," recounts Isaitamil, who has returned to her village after five days to salvage what she can from the heap of debris that was once home to her five-member family. "I will go on living at the overcrowded camp, since I have no home to come back to," she says.
Devastated fishing communities
The fishing communities in the state have been hit badly, since they live on or very near the east coast, mostly in thatch huts. Fishing boats and gear have suffered irreparable damages in many cases, and survivors are now left without any options to pick up their lives and start earning a living again.
Urgent aid relief
While numerous organisations have rushed in with food and lothes, not all villages have been adequately covered in relief work. People have slowly started coming back to their villages to clean up the debris. In many villages, the search for missing people and dead bodies is still on.
ActionAid teams supplying relief in Tamil Nadu
As news of the region's biggest-ever natural disaster reached us, the small team of 8 people from the Chennai Regional Office swung into action.
Till now, this team with the help of a group of over 65 volunteers from Chennai's colleges have reached out to 5000 people with immediate relief - including food packets. Drinking water - a dire need since piped water suppy has broken down in affected areas - has been distributed to 10,000 people. 113 sanitation and medical camps have been held so far in 6 districts - Vilipuram, Chennai, Kanchipuram, Cuddalore, Kanyakumari, Nagapattinam. Of these, some are mobile camps, that cover more than one village in a day.
About 6000 people have been treated at these camps. Besides this, our teams have helped to safely dispose of the dead, safe sanitation and health practices. Bedding materials and vessels for cooking - since entire households have simply washed away, are also being collected for distribution. Throughout, the teams are doing what needs to be done most: actively listening to people in distress.
Support to women and children
Most of the dead are women and children. The tsunami has left a heart rending trail of children left without or separated from parents, including infants who are often left at the doors of churches etc. The relief camps are facing overcrowding and most have little or no sanitation facilities. Women from one such camp, a marriage hall conveted into a shelter, reported not having had a bath in four days - unthinkable amoung the scrupulously tidy women of this area.
ActionAid plans in Tamil Nadu
Our first priority has been to get relief to the most vulnerable. The plaintive refrain from survivors in relief camps is, 'how will we earn a living, where shall we live?' Survivors today are deeply worried about the times to come. Everyone is anxious to start working and earning, rebuilding their lives from whatever the tsunami has left them with. We will work with survivors over the months and years to come to provide:
1. Rehabilitation and restoration of liveihoods
2. Health and sanitation
3. Psycho-social care
Recognising the need for a concerted effort to meet the scale of this disaster, ActionAid has facilitated the formation of the Tamil Nadu People's Forum for Tsunami Relief, a group of 17 NGOs including Oxfam, Unicef, Save the Children, and Aid et Action in order to pool efforts, ensure information and communications co-ordination, and avoid duplication of efforts. The group will also deal with the crucial and resource-intensive process of rehabilitating livelihoods lost. A possible plan is for promoting cooperatively-owned boats and nets, and supporting women's groups in fish processing and marketing.
An assessment team is now in Cuddalore to understand the nuances of livelihood practices and plan the rehabilitation that weaves in ActionAid's larger mandate to build equity and justice for poor people.