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India response looks long-term

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | March 7, 2001

The focus is shifting from short-term emergency relief to long-term rebuilding in the wake of

India's Jan. 26 earthquake that killed thousands.

Among the priorities of responding groups are providing housing for thousands of homeless families, and helping

people cope with ongoing emotional trauma.

Response leaders who visited earthquake-devastated areas were struck by how vital response by church-based

groups has become. Johnny Wray met with leaders from Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), one of the

primary local responding groups in India. Wray coordinates Week of Compassion, a giving program administered by

the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Upon viewing the damage, Wray said, "One might well think war indeed had broken out. The scenes we saw were not

unlike what I saw in Bosnia shortly after the civil war ended there in 1995. Not just homes destroyed, but entire

communities and towns...every home, every house of worship, every shop, every business was reduced to rubble by

the quake, or what was left of them soon would be by dozers, wrecking balls, or sledge hammers."

CASA is a member of Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global alliance of church-based relief groups. The

magnitude 7.9 earthquake was the worst to hit India in more than five decades. It killed some 20,000 people but it is

believed as many as 50,000 have perished, according to ACT reports. More than 100,000 people were injured, and 38

million have been affected. More than 300,000 houses were destroyed and 400,000 damaged in more than 10,000

towns and villages. More than 20,000 heads of livestock perished.

The quake caused $3-5 million in damages. Towns such as Bhuj, Bachau, Anjar, and Rapar in the Kutch District suffered

almost total destruction. Civic officials and legislators in Gujarat have been communicating with officials Seattle to

learn how to build more earthquake-safe homes.

Zac Patnaik, vice president of the Baptist World Alliance, also visited India. "Such mass destruction I have never seen

even in the movies of World War II. Of special concern are the more than 5,000 children between the ages of three and

twelve who have become orphans and now roam the streets totally confused."

CASA has begun plans to assist survivors with mid-term and long-term rehabilitation. Mid-term relief will include

supporting the livelihood of economically disadvantaged groups since a three-year drought in the region has

decimated food and cash reserves. A comprehensive rehabilitation package may include rainwater harvesting, dry

land farming, animal husbandry, mother and child care, community organizing, and support to village artisans and

other income generators.

CASA has already launched a "food for work" program in which people clear debris, build roads, and repair

community structures in exchange for food to feed their families. CASA leaders reported that this program is a

deterrent to people's tendency to migrate because of job or food scarcity.

Long-term relief will include housing, especially for those belonging to marginalized sections of society. CASA is

planning to build 2,000 earthquake-resistant houses in three villages of Bhuj Taluk of the Kutch district, and three

villages of Jodiya Taluk in the Jamnagar district. CASA plans to use materials available locally. The structures will be

two-roomed with a kitchen and verandah, and exact dimensions will be worked out in consultation with local people.

"It is not the quake as such that kills people but rather the poorly constructed houses," reported Lennart Skov-Hansen

of DanChurchAid, a relief group also working with ACT.

The geological changes that the earthquake brought about have affected the aquifers and water table. Drought-prone

communities must develop new water resources.

CASA serves the most vulnerable communities, Wray explained. "We have heard many disconcerting stories about

how some agencies were basically dumping relief supplies in stricken communities or just passing out aid randomly to

whomever showed up. In the villages we visited the people were so appreciative of CASA's system which meant

everybody received equally, especially the injured, the elderly, the weak -- those were not strong enough to compete

for aid when it was simply left or pitched out at random. And in most of the villages we visited, CASA was the only

agency there -- again underscoring their commitment to serve the most vulnerable, neglected communities."

CASA also plans to build in elements of disaster preparedness and planning by offering training and interaction at a

community level.

As the relief arm of the Protestant and Orthodox churches in India, CASA has been responding to emergencies on the

sub-continent for more than 50 years. Last year alone, CASA responded to 79 disasters and emergencies. CASA

personnel reached Gujarat within 24 hours of the quake. At that time, CASA distributed relief items - including

personal items, lanterns, tarps, and dry ration kits -- to the Kutch, Jamnagar, and Rajkot districts in the western Indian

state of Gujarat.

ACT issued an initial appeal of 3.2 million dollars to support CASA's relief efforts. ACT has indicated that appeal will be

revised and expanded considerably for the recovery and rehabilitation phase.

Church World Service pledged $500,000 toward that first appeal and will ask its member communions for another half

million dollars for the expanded appeal.

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