Relief efforts begin to reach millions in India

BY SUSAN KIM | Orissa, India | November 10, 1999

More than a week after a huge cyclone hit India, relief groups are finally beginning to get supplies into the hands of the millions

in need.

Government troops are working to quell looting of relief trucks and, somewhat, rioting for food and water, said Joan Cosby, a

program assistant from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).

"Things are a little calmer and supply trucks are able to move

around," she said, although government reports indicate that

looting is still happening.

Emergency relief materials, many purchased through financial

appeals by organizations such as Action by Churches Together

(ACT), appear to be meeting the most pressing needs. Response

leaders report that cash contributions are the best way for

U.S.-based churches and individuals to help.

As the extent of destruction becomes more apparent, the needs

grow alarmingly larger and more urgent. The numbers of people

in need -- up to 12 million homeless, tens of thousands are believed

to have been killed.

Corpses still mound the streets and millions of people, ill from

contaminated water, are overflowing makeshift clinics on roads

and in fields. While government officials estimate that the death

toll may not reach that of a 1971 cyclone that killed nearly 10,000

people, a spokesman for the Federation of the Red Cross and Red

Crescent Societies disputed that tally, suggesting at least 10,000 had


The Oct. 29 storm generated 160-mile-per-hour winds and three

days of torrential rain as it roared in from the Bay of Bengal. Many

areas are still underwater, and response officials predict that a

massive farm rehabilitation effort will be needed since this year's

crops were destroyed just before harvest.

CRWRC, among a number of other faith-based response groups, are trying to address emergency needs while also planning a

long-term response. Many groups are conducting on-site needs assessments and establishing or expanding local partnerships.

CRWRC has already sent funds to its local partner, EFICOR, a Christian organization that, in turn, has a network of local

partners of its own in India. CRWRC was already working with EFICOR to develop healthcare programs in India's poorest

communities before the disaster struck.

Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services (CRS) also has staff on the ground in India to assess damages in "the worst storm to hit

India in 50 years," said Kenneth Hackett, executive director.

CRS has sent shipments of food, clothing, medicines, and household items by rail from Delhi, Calcutta, and Vizag Port. CRS is

also sending blankets, bleach, tarps, water purification tablets, lanterns, and cooking stoves.

In addition, CRS is supporting three medical teams in Orissa. CRS has been working in India for more than 50 years, and has

five offices in the country.

Those organizations already working with local partners on projects before the disaster have been able to initiate a more rapid

response. For others, the disaster may hinder -- or speed up -- already-established projects.

The Heifer Project, a nonprofit that distributes livestock to families so they can achieve food security, was in the process of

developing a program in Orissa -- the hardest-hit area and already extremely impoverished -- before the disaster struck.

"We had made several forays to meet with grass roots organizations, with non-government organizations, and with

government organizations to gather more information and find out about partnerships," said Robert Pelant, Asia/South Pacific

program director for the Heifer Project.

"We had not established any programs there but were still at the exploratory stage. This disaster may hinder some of the things

(we were planning) but in other areas will speed things along," he said.

A disaster task force will consider how Heifer Project can tie rehabilitative and food security efforts into the overall response, he

said, especially in "fringe areas" such as Orissa.

Two staff from the program's New Delhi office were in Orissa when the cyclone hit but were able to return safely, he said.

Another staff member from Orissa was working in New Delhi when he learned his home had been destroyed.

"He has no knowledge of his wife, son, or parents," said Pelant. "He may still be trying to get there. We keep checking our e-mail

to hear good news."

Food security is also a focus for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) which, like many other denominational groups, is

working through Churches' Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), the relief arm of the Council of Churches in India.

MCC will donate 1,000 metric tons of wheat for CASA's food-for-work program, which CASA estimates will employ 13,500

people for 15 days. Each person will earn about 11 pounds of food per day for their work cleaning up sand and debris that is

filling up wells and fish ponds and littering fields.

MCC is also helping to provide bleach, lime, water purification tablets, oral re-hydration solutions, medication, tarps, and food.

Since family members will benefit from food received, the program could assist a total of 70,000 people, CASA estimates.

Cyclone season, which lasts September through November, has been especially severe this year. The Oct. 29 storm was

thesecond to hit Orissa in October.

Earlier in October, the Calcutta area was covered with up to four feet of water after heavy rains and a government decision to

release bursting dams.

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