Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Latest Update from Kamayani (As sent on 7th September)

Dear Friends,

As at all other times support from the AID community has been tremendous and all of us here in Bihar appreciate your positive response. I have been out in Araria since the 23rd so have been quite silent on email. Yesterday Medha Patkar and NAPM and NBA volunteers were in Patna after their visits to flood affected areas and I had come to join in the meeting planned in Patna. I had promised Priya and Abhishek that I would send an update last night but I guess the day was quite long, broad band at home is not working and I have got some sort of viral infection, put all this together and I am delayed in writing this mail.

As some of you may already know in June this year Ashish and I had gone to Araria district for coordinating an intensive survey initiated by Prof. Jean Dreze. The survey was conducted by the G.B. Pant Institute (Allahabad University) and focused on assessing the ground realities of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in two districts of Bihar, namely Kaimur and Araria. The survey also had related campaign activities like awareness generation, checking if transparency safeguards were in place to check corruption and documentation of irregularities and cases of corruption.

Our work was done with a lot of local support and it was at the end of this survey that the Jan Jagaran Abhiyan was born. The Abhiyan plans to work on NREGA, Right to Information (RTI) and issues of justice. The Abhiyan was focusing on following up on issues that surfaced during the survey (related to irregularities, lack of awareness etc). Abhiyan representatives were in touch with the government and trying to generate interest amongst officials to work with civil society organizations to ensure transparency and smooth functioning of NREGA in Araria. And it was just as the Abhiyan was finding its roots in Araria that the floods came and we have jumped head long into relief work.

So far the Abhiyan is a completely voluntary affair, a small unregistered group, with no remunerations and institutional funds (though we have generated some funds from friends for the basic functions of the Abhiyan). However, for the relief work we are taking all support whether individual or institutional, and once again I would like to appreciate AID's support here.

So far:

- Visiting camps and rescue points set up across the district to have an understanding of the situation, the needs of the people etc.

- Directing relief materials to places where it is most needed, helping in distribution, coordinating with local administration to reach areas which have got cut off …

- Set up a small control room in Araria where we can store and sort relief materials, before distributing them at the camps, issued an appeal for contributions locally in Araria.

- Medha Patkar with other NAPM and NBA volunteers, has been visiting the flood affected areas and they were also in Araria. This has given the group new energy and direction.

- Our volunteers are also supporting running of a transit relief camp at Araria Court Railway station, which is being run by the North Frontier Railway.

Further plans: Continue with all above and also …

- Survey: Swati Desai and Anand mazgaonkar are trying to organize a small student volunteer team with some senior people, who are experienced in disaster management, with their support we are planning a survey of all camps in Araria dist. According to the Government there are 64 Government relief camps housing about 70,000 people. We hope this survey will give us concrete basis of giving inputs to the administration to improve camp status and also identify gaps that can be addressed by civil society groups.

- Medical Relief: Thanks again to Swati and Anand we are in touch with Darshan, from Mumbai who is organizing a team of intern doctors to visit Araria. There are already cases of diahhoreal infections and deaths due to the same being reported from camps.

But even as we do our best with relief we must remember that we have a larger problem at hand. The problem of floods is a recurrent one in Bihar. Every year we re faced by floods, though the scales re far more massive this year. As Medha said flood control is not the solution the solution is flood management. There needs to be a more concerted effort at finding a solution to this recurrent floods problem.

Leaving for Araria tonight.

Thank you

Best wishes



Ps- I know i have much more to say to write to to tell but maybe will write when there is more time at hand.

Ps- Kind of relief material that is useful: warm clothes (children), blankets, saris, lungis, gamchas, soap, hair oil. Other than that medicines, dry food rations and monetary contributions. Volunteers are needed especially those who could do survey kind of work, coordinate relief materials, keep stocks, etc.

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