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Thursday 6 January 2005

Seeds Field Report

Field Report from Andamans SEEDS. 05 January 2005. 1350 hrs IST

This is our ninth day in the Andamans. Our initial task was assisting the government in establishing relief camps and getting them running. We now need to focus greater attention on preparations for reconstruction and rehabilitation.We had reached Tamil Nadu on 27 December. We realised that there are some credible NGOs extending aid there. Meanwhile the toll in Andaman and Nicobar was rising and no NGO had reached here due to logistical problems. We thus moved to the Andamans and started relief operations. Our update is as follows:



1. Upon arrival in Port Blair on the 28th, our team was asked by the District Administration to assist them by managing two relief camps in specific schools. A third was added later. We have provided tents, set up toilets, organized kitchens, air-shipped basic commodities from Chennai and organised local logistics. Facilities like T.V, radio and news papers are being provided to the people. Psychosocial counselling to the victims has been organised at the camp by Ms. Kanan, a prominent
local resident, and her team. We are also tying up with local cultural groups for organising cultural events in the camps. The District Administration has set up more camps in Port Blair, and one is coming up specifically for the tribes. There are a number of national and international NGO teams in Port Blair now, assessing the situation and waiting to get clearance to start operations in the islands.

2. Nicobar area is worst hit. Casualty estimates by locals are much higher than the number of bodies found so far. The human impact in Port Blair is lesser but there is damage to infrastructure. The administration is busy with putting things back in place. The water crisis in Port Blair has been overcome to an extent. Water distribution has started, though is yet to be fully restored.

3. The initial 3-4 days were the most difficult for setting the camp facilities up. We got tremendous support from local volunteers. Since there was an acute problem of accommodation due to water shortage, we did not fly in any more relief workers from outside but depended on our four staff members and local volunteers. The school administration groups and local volunteers have played a very important role in camp
management. We have partnered with Yuva Shakti, a respected local organisation of dedicated youth members, for local relief logistics.

4. Things on the ground are changing every day. Now that the three camps are established and running well, we are talking to the government and local groups of an arrangement wherein the government will stay in charge of the camps, the school management groups will take care of daily operations, and we will continue to provide the tents, infrastructure and relief supplies as per requirements. It is time for us to focus more on planning the rehabilitation initiative on the islands.

5. We have sought government permission to work on the islands. Permission is required before starting work. The islands villages have suffered major damages, and once the evacuees start going back to the villages, they will need much support to be able to survive. We propose to assist the administration by providing boats, tents, basic household amenities, and technical support in reconstruction of houses, and being with the community till they regain their capacity to sustain themselves. We heard that the government is appointing a Rehabilitation Commissioner to expedite and coordinate rehab work in the territory.

6. For operating the relief camps we had raised local support. Through this we could mobilize sufficient resources to manage the relief camps for a few weeks. Since the beginning our aim has been to wind down the relief camps as soon as possible and move the people back to the islands. This process will include provision of essential commodities in the interim. We anticipate a major water problem on the islands as
most water sources may be saline. It will take sustained support for months, perhaps years, to help rebuild houses, schools, community facilities, infrastructure and livelihoods. We will know what extent and type of construction is to be done only after carrying out impact as well as housing typology assessments on the islands.

7. So far our team has surveyed some affected settlements in Wandoor area near Port Blair. Our team of engineers will move from Gujarat to the Andamans in the next two days to start structural damage assessment. Our team at the Delhi office, assisted by technical volunteers worldwide, is carrying out census and mapping studies of the
area so that we are able to act quickly once we get a go ahead.

8. We are running a helpline to locate persons missing in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Information can be mailed to us at info@seedsindia.org and we will publicise it in Port Blair. We are also getting offers from many volunteers willing to work for relief. We have put up a volunteer roster on our website wherefrom any relief team
needing support can directly access these volunteers

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