Relief difficult in India

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | January 28, 2001

Relief workers can't get to thousands of villagers in remote areas as emergency crews feverishly clear debris in western and central India.

Estimates of the death toll after Friday's earthquake have reached 20,000, according to reports from Action by Churches Together (ACT), with another 150,000 still feared trapped in rubble.

Relief is reaching some of the millions of homeless survivors, though a shortage of cooking fuel is hampering efforts to provide food, according to reports from Lutheran World Relief (LWR).

Among the most immediate needs for survivors are water and shelter, according to LWR. Many wells have collapsed, and in others water has turned salty because of shifts in water levels during the earthquake.

"People are spending the night outside in fear," said Sam Selvin of Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), a organization that is partnering with many U.S.-based and global relief agencies to help quake survivors. CASA has an extended network for emergency response in India.

Selvin said that temperatures in the disaster zone drop near freezing this time of year. CASA aid teams are distributing food, blankets, and other relief items.

The earthquake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, and the hardest hit areas were the city of Ahmedabad, population 7.5 million, and the desert town of Bhuj. Bhuj -- and many villages around it -- have been completely flattened. Hospitals are overflowing with injured people.

Collapsed homes, shattered bridges and mangled buildings still lie in tangled piles. "The death toll just keeps going up and up," said LWR spokesperson Jonathan Frerichs.

There are also mine cave-ins, train derailments and broken water pipes, according to reports from ACT, a global alliance of churches and related agencies that coordinate emergency response.

International ACT members had pledged more than $2 million for relief in India as of Monday afternoon, ACT reported, adding that it will soon issue an appeal for more than $3 million.

Ahmedabad, capital of the state of Gujarat, suffered the highest number of deaths, according to government reports. Ahmedabad is home to one of India's largest gold markets and is an oilseed trading center, as well as a production site for textiles and chemicals. Large buildings have collapsed across Gujarat, according to ACT reports, with many others sustaining cracks or other major damage.

ACT is working closely with CASA and other ACT partners in the area. Both CASA and Church World Service (CWS), working with local protestant and catholic churches as well as the YMCA, are preparing to provide shelter, food, water and other relief items. Many residents, especially in rural areas, are still waiting for help to arrive.

LWR is sending a $25,000 in emergency funds to CASA, and is sending two teams that will purchase supplies and food for locally for survivors. LWR is also helping local church aid workers to respond.

Week of Compassion, a giving program coordinated by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has given an initial grant of $6,000 to CWS and will also repond to the forthcoming ACT appeal.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has pledged $5,000 to help with relief efforts.

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is also working with CASA, as is the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Relief groups are urging individuals who want to help to send cash donations not material goods since most supplies can be purchased locally.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which operates programs in India, has dispatched local staff to gather information about priority needs, said Norma Sahlin, ADRA spokesperson. "We are jumping into action."

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has committed an initial emergency allocation of $50,000 to assist survivors, as well as additional funding as needed in Pakistan. "CRS is working with local partners in the affected areas to assess the critical needs," CRS spokesperson Joe Carney.

Baptist World Aid committed $10,000 to help with immediate relief and has launched an additional appeal for funds. "The greatest need now is for medical personnel and medicines," said Bonny Resu, Asian regional secretary for Baptist World Aid.

International Aid has been in contact with Mission India, a Michigan- based Christian nonprofit, to explore possible responses for survivors.

AmeriCares is also responding with a representative en route to Ahmedabad to collaborate with local emergency authorities. Many survivors are in desperate need of medical attention, AmeriCares reported.

World Vision aid workers are traveling to communities to bring medical supplies and food, and to assess damages.

The quake's epicenter was about 13 miles northeast of Bhuj in the sparsely populated Rann of Kutch, which lies on the border with Pakistan.

The quake sent tremors as far north as Nepal and as far south as Madras.

The quake hit as India was celebrating Republic Day, a national holiday that marks the anniversary of its transition to a republic in 1950. Many residents were making preparations for celebrations as the quake struck.

The U.S. Earthquake Engineering Research Institute will likely send teams of engineers, planners and scientists to the quake site to evaluate damages, said spokesperson Marjorie Greene. The institute operates a program, funded by the National Science Foundation, called "Learning from Earthquakes" in which U.S.-based teams travel to earthquake sites to study possible mitigation techniques for the future.

The last major earthquake to hit India was in March 1999. Measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, it killed 100 people and injured 300 others in the Himalayan foothills.

In Pakistan, officials reported that the earthquake killed 12 people in the southern province of Sindh, including an infant and an 8-year-old child. CWS is assessing the needs there and is in contact with its local partners in the field, such as Lower Sind Rural Development Association and Caritas.

Many of the groups responding in India are also responding in El Salvador, where a Jan. 13 earthquake killed at least 700 and left thousands homeless.

Besides the responders mentioned in this story, other groups responding include: American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, American Jewish World Service, B'nai B'rith International, CARE, Christian Children's Fund, Concern Worldwide US, Direct Relief International, Food for the Hungry, MAP International, Operation USA, Oxfam America, The Salvation Army, United Way International, World Concern, World Relief and the International Red Cross.

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