How much is too much! Kerala natural disaster

How much is too much! Kerala natural disaster

A few years ago, people driving down the Bengaluru highway to Hyderabad were met with a puzzling scene Huge piles of colourful clothes dumped by the...

A few years ago, people driving down the Bengaluru highway to Hyderabad were met with a puzzling scene. Huge piles of colourful clothes dumped by the roadside, the piles continuing for more than a hundred kilometres from Kurnool towards Hyderabad.

It was then revealed that those were the used clothes that Kurnool flood victims had rejected and the NGOs, which made the collection simply dumped them on the way back instead of the hassle of carrying them back to Hyderabad.

"This incident left many relief activists not just mystified but hurt. It felt that so much of effort, concern and care by so many strangers far away from the scene of calamity were not received properly," recalls Bhavani Kumar, who coordinated massive relief efforts at that time through a voluntary group. “It also led to some introspection on what could have been done better,” he adds.

And now, as Kerala reels under an unprecedented natural disaster, human kindness has yet again sprung forth and the entire nation has been coming together to help out their fellow citizens. Dozens of relief initiatives have been started with both monetary and material assistance pouring in.

But one question that bothers both those who coordinate and those donate is whether the relief is reaching the last man; whether it is going where it should and whether it is being delivered in the best form that it has been received.

"My experience is from the Hudhud storm in Visakhapatnam. People donated generously, both money and material. In the material, there were items that were perishable such as pulihora rice and we had to throw away massive amounts of food. We had to empty two truckloads of milk and it was such a colossal waste of both material and effort, not to mention love," says Sai Padma, social worker and activist.

Many agencies contributing to the cause are making efforts to optimise the benefit. “We are donating money to the required level and purchase of material will be made locally. Rest we are also ensuring that there is waterproof packing,” explains Manju Latha Kalanidhi of Rice Bucket Challenge.

“There are clear cut guidelines in the National Disaster Management Act on all aspects such as the command at the district level, needs assessment, sending relief material, etc. Anyone who seeks to offer relief and assistance should be aware of these guidelines,” says Dr WG Prasanna Kumar, Chairman, Mahatma Gandhi National Council for Rural Education, and an acknowledged expert on disaster management.

In case of Kerala, the length and breadth of the State as well its terrain needs to be kept in mind, he says. “It’s a State that has highways running through its length and with several roads going off them. So, when there are a lot of trucks coming in, the aid simply stops at one point.”

It is the district collectors, who are the command at times of disaster and they operate as per plan, he says, and it is essential to follow their plan and requests for relief material.

“Public health is at greatest hazard at times of floods. All the relief material that we send, unless absolutely needed, is just additional waste. It’s impossible to have a waste management system in flood waters and all perishable stuff adds to the hazard of outbreak of diseases,” Dr Prasanna Kumar says.

So how do concerned people contribute? Have a plan. Get information from the ground; contact agencies that coordinate relief measures. Make judicious decisions.

“Clothes can be segregated size-wise. Rice and other food stuff and daily needs should be taken in large quantities in one place instead of a motley of items. Check with the collector about the transport, distribution mechanisms. Medicines should be passed on to the right authority,” Dr Prasanna Kumar advises.

There have been many requests from the Kerala government for technical help in rebuilding infrastructure. It may be effective to find out the exact scale and place of need.

Good intentions abound. The nation’s heart beats with kindness but both sensible planning and caution are needed to make relief efforts most fruitful, is what disaster management experts advise.

By: Usha Turaga-Revelli

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