Indian Rotarians assist survivors of disastrous monsoon rains

By Vukoni Lupa-Lasaga

Rotarians have joined relief workers in Maharashtra, India, to assist the victims of flooding and landslides caused by torrential monsoon rains, the heaviest on record. Close to 1,000 people in the state are feared dead after more than a week of intermittent rainfall that has disrupted cleanup efforts.

Up to 20 million people, most of them residents of India's financial capital, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), have been affected by the disastrous downpour. The city received 940 millimeters (37 inches) of rain on 24 July, the first day of the rainfall.

"I have never seen anything like this in the 58 years I've lived here," says Shyam Rupani, president of the Rotary Club of Bombay Bandra. Like many other Rotarians from the city's 70 Rotary clubs, Rupani is doing double-duty taking care of the immediate needs of family members and extending a helping hand to survivors in even more dire straits.

"We are taking care of many people who have lost everything, including their homes," says Rupani. "But it is not easy. Communication is still difficult. Cellular phone service was restored only three days ago. Up to now, it [has been] hard to get through on land lines."

Many people in Rotary International districts 3130 and 3140 are in immediate need of food and other emergency relief items. Area residents have lost 10,000 homes, as well as 15,000 livestock and more than 200,000 acres of crops. Maharashtra revenue department officials estimate that the state has suffered US$3.4 billion worth of damage to infrastructure and property.

Other affected cities include Pune, Raigad, Ratnagiri, and Thane. Deepak Shikarpur, president of the Rotary Club of Pune-Shivajinagar, reports that the members of his club distributed food to hundreds of train passengers who were stranded in the city when the rails were washed away.

"We assisted over 500 passengers," says Shikarpur. "They really appreciated the timely help from our side."

Since the crisis is far from over, he explains, the Pune-Shivajinagar club is undertaking several projects, including offering home hospitality to Rotarians from worse-affected areas; distributing clothes, food, and medicines; and providing educational assistance to children orphaned by the disaster.

Rotarians in District 3130 have distributed relief items that were either donated or purchased from local markets, utilizing funds from an already existing district welfare relief fund. The items include three truckloads of food, 1,000 donated blankets, and medicine and medical supplies. More details about their efforts, including contact information of relief coordinators, are available on the club and district relief pages on the RI Web site.