India

Orissa feature: Delivering a lifeline in the dust

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By Edward Carwardine, Bhubaneswar
Mancheswar, two kilometres from the capital of Orissa, is one of two railway stations receiving emergency supplies for transport to the worst-affected districts. It is an unlikely setting for distribution of $20 million dollars' worth of relief. It has no platforms, ticket offices or waiting rooms. In fact there are no buildings, or even trees on the flat land surrounding it, just bare metal tracks. The only shelter is provided by a couple of canvas awnings, set up by the railway staff to shield workers from the midday heat.

Two trains arrive in Mancheswar each week, on average, containing everything from grain to blankets, and from clothing to polythene sheeting for weatherproofing and shelter. A team of five officials from the State Government oversees the operations, which include logging in the supplies and sending them by truck to the local football stadium, where they are registered and delivered to the districts most in need. There has been little loss or waste.

Blankets are among the items in high demand. With many homes badly damaged and lacking heat, blankets provide a shield against the cool nighttime temperatures. Some 500,000 woolen blankets have been ordered, and half of them have arrived.

The Government of Orissa is working with UNICEF to distribute them first to the most vulnerable members of the community - the elderly, disabled, widows, women-headed households, and families who have lost their homes.

"Because we have a clear plan for distribution we know just how many people we can reach," says B. C. Swine, a district administrator in hard-hit Kendrapara district, which is receiving 20,000 blankets. "Within a day or so of the blankets arriving here, we can get them out to the villages - and to the people who need them."

In the village of Silipur a patient crowd gathers at the site where 150 blankets will be given out. As the items are unloaded and names called, people come up one by one to a table to sign the register set out by the local government official. Thumbprints serve as signatures for those who cannot write their names, including many of the elderly.

UNICEF is helping the State Government monitor this distribution. Staff from the UNICEF office in Bhubaneswar, which covers Orissa, meet regularly with local officials. They check the storage of the bales and blanket quality, ensure that local administrators understand the distribution procedure, and assist with delivery. Any problems are reported to UNICEF's Supply and Logistics officers in Bhubaneswar.

"Having UNICEF here gives us more confidence in our work," says Mr. Das, the local government official in Silipur. "The people know that the delivery of aid is being monitored independently, and that the whole process is transparent. They know that distribution will meet agreed-upon priorities and be fair."

For more information on UNICEF, visit its web site at http://www.unicef.org