Gujarat earthquake response

Report
from Christian Aid
Published on 27 Jun 2001
'Months after the earthquake, the rubble and debris remain uncleared in a vast majority of villages. While life seems to have returned to normal, with markets up and running, thousands are sleeping in tents outside their villages, waiting for the government to deliver their rehabilitation package.' Sophie Monro-Davies, Christian Aid Emergency Programme Officer
The earthquake which struck the Indian state of Gujarat at 8.46am on 26 January 2001 is said to be the worst earthquake in the history of independent India. It measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and tremors were felt as far away as Chennai and Nepal. Conservative estimates put the death toll at 20,000 but the final figure may never be known, with so many bodies lying under rubble, never to be recovered.

The earthquake caused structural damage and destruction in towns up to 300km away. The number of houses destroyed beyond repair is believed to be 250,000 with an additional 400,000 partially destroyed. The sheer scale of the earthquake, causing massive destruction to property, seeds stocks, tools and water sources, has left vast areas of the state in a desperate condition. After two months of immediate relief interventions, attention has now turned to the medium- and long- term rehabilitation of the affected communities, and the restoration of their livelihoods.

There are concerns related to reports of communities being discriminated against on the basis of caste, religion and political affiliation. The government has also come under attack for its inefficient response to the earthquake, lack of disaster management policy and its failure to implement proper construction laws. The government's lack of a finalised reconstruction policy has delayed rehabilitation programmes.

Christian Aid partners

The six partner organisations supported by Christian Aid in the aftermath of January's earthquake are still working in affected areas, both rural and urban.

  • Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI)
  • The Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA)
  • Action for Agricultural Renewal in Maharashtra (AFARM)
  • Vikas Adhyan Kendra (VAK - Centre for Development Studies)
  • Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI)
  • UNNATI ( a local Gujarati organisation)
Although the relief stage is officially over, vulnerable people are still in need of assistance, particularly elderly people, widows and the disabled. Partners have focused primarily on helping people to rebuild their livelihoods, supporting local organisations and community groups to develop their ability to respond to local needs, and advocating with the government authorities. They believe that with limited funds they are better placed to make an impact in community-based programmes, an area that is often neglected by the government.

Shelter

With the onset of the monsoon rains in June and July, housing and permanent shelter is a pressing concern. Christian Aid is supporting the work of VAK, UNNATI and VHAI in their advocacy and lobbying efforts, aiming to ensure that appropriate reconstruction of houses takes place. VAK and VHAI are also assisting communities in the construction of multi-purpose community centres. These will be used to demonstrate sound earthquake-resistant building techniques.

Trauma counselling

At the time of the 1993 earthquake in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra the long-term effects of trauma were not dealt with sufficiently. In view of this many agencies are keen to address this issue. Four of Christian Aid's partners, VAK, VHAI, UNNATI and CMAI, have highlighted the importance of involving the community in their trauma counselling work, recognising the role they can play in the healing process. They are all aware of the dangers of imposing culturally inappropriate styles of counselling. CMAI is training 400 volunteers in listening skills and caring skills enabling them to detect post-traumatic disorders. UNNATI has begun to use street theatre to raise awareness of the issue.

Gender

The earthquake has left many women in an especially vulnerable position, suffering not only the psychological damage of losing family members, but also economic insecurity at the loss of the family's income-earners. There has also been an increase in the incidence of domestic violence against women.

UNNATI has identified young mothers as facing particular traumas as a consequence of living in makeshift tents and lacking privacy. VHAI's handicrafts programme is aimed at improving the lives of female artisans through skills training, design and marketing support. VHAI also recognises that economic empowerment alone will not meet the long-term needs of these communities, and is looking at ways of improving the social status of women through self-help groups.

Caste and discrimination

Christian Aid partners have been working with the most vulnerable communities, which include groups of Muslims and dalit people (formerly known as untouchables). The aim is to assist entire villages, in an effort to reduce communal tensions and strengthen communities.

VAK is working in an area that has a large Muslim population, where the distribution of relief has been negligible. The earthquake destroyed 90 per cent of the houses, leaving 1,400 families homeless. VAK is assisting families in the preparation of death certificates and claims for compensation. They are also monitoring the government's relief and rehabilitation programmes, seeking to expose any discrimination on the basis of caste, religion or gender.