TBI Uttarakhand Diaries: Relief Work Carries On Even As Media Focus Shifts

Even though media attention has shifted from Uttarakhand, the work done by local NGOs, trekking communities and good samaritans continues, as they try hard to rehabilitate the locals and rebuild their lives from their lost fortunes. We feature their work here not only to create awareness about the remarkable initiatives undertaken in disaster management but also to encourage them and to express our support and gratitude  for their efforts.

The situation in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district, one of the worst affected during the recent floods hasn’t improved even after a fortnight. The villages here are yet to get relief. Whatever little has arrived has been thanks to all the NGOs which have started their relief operations quite sometime ago.

People living along the banks of Bagirathi River in the Gyansu area of Uttarkashi. They have lost everything due to floods.

People living along the banks of Bagirathi River in the Gyansu area of Uttarkashi. They have lost everything due to floods.

The Indian Red Cross Society, a voluntary humanitarian organisation providing relief in times of disasters/emergencies and promoting health and care to the vulnerable people and communities, has set up medical relief camps. It was the first medical responder service through volunteers and is also supplying relief materials such as tents, tarpoline, utensils, stove, blankets and other essentials.

As of now the Red Cross Society has given out relief materials to 148 families in villages such as Tilot, Joshiayara and Gyansu. These are villages in the vicinity of the main Uttarkashi town where people have lost their homes and livelihood.

Relief material such as tents, tarpoline, blankets, kitchen utensils, stoves and buckets being distributed to the displaced people  of Gyansu

Relief material such as tents, tarpoline, blankets, kitchen utensils, stoves and buckets being distributed to the displaced people of Gyansu

The Red Cross Society has surveyed about 12 villages and approximately 650 families have been identified by them who have been affected on the basis of partial loss, full loss and those under potential risk.

“In some cases even before the disaster we had preempted some villages that will be destroyed and had provided these families with tents and evacuated them to a safer place,” says Dr MK Rao, Secretary, Indian Red Cross Society and retired Deputy Chief Medical Officer-Uttarkashi.

Dr M K Rao, secretary of Indian Red Cross Society and Madhav Prasad Joshi, treasurer of the society  in their offices in Uttarkashi

Dr M K Rao, secretary of Indian Red Cross Society and Madhav Prasad Joshi, treasurer of the society in their offices in Uttarkashi

The Red Cross Society has been in the field since the disaster struck, that is the 16th of June. The society’s 360 FMRs have also been in the field since then providing medical first aid, providing instant report on how many people are affected and creating awareness programmes with regard to water and sanitation.

Since 2002, the Red Cross Society has been working in this region on a regular basis conducting medical camps for the pilgrims.

Despite the Red Cross Society having its own team, many local youths from the Uttarkashi district have associated themselves with the Red Cross Society to provide relief. They are largely helping in organizing relief material and making sure it reaches the affected people. Jayprakash Panwar, who runs a trekking company has been helping the Red Cross Society every time a disaster has struck this place. He says:

We are residents of Uttarkashi and we want to help our people. We are trained mountaineers and have the necessary skills to reach out to more people.

JayPrakash Panwar, a life member of Indian Red Cross Society distributing relief material to the families of Gyansu

JayPrakash Panwar, a life member of Indian Red Cross Society distributing relief material to the families of Gyansu

Ashish Uniyal adds:

If the youth don’t come forward at such times, when will they come? This is our hometown and the least we can do is help in every which way we can.

They also feel that by associating themselves with the Red Cross they can help on a larger scale as it is extremely well-organised and widespread.

But is not an easy task to get relief operations conducted here. Says Madhav Prasad Joshi, Treasurer, Indian Red Cross Society, “First and foremost, locating the needy who are affected is becoming a task. Many who have lost their homes have left their villages and relocated themselves to other places. But the biggest challenge is the access to these villages. We have to trek to these villages to give the relief material.” Villagers themselves are trekking up to 20 kms to collect the relief material.

Yashtwant Panwar, Jayprakash Panwar, Ashish Uniyal and Madhav Prasad Joshi in their office

Yashtwant Panwar, Jayprakash Panwar, Ashish Uniyal and Madhav Prasad Joshi in their office

Currently, the situation in Uttarkashi is such that people’s hopes are pinned on NGOs because they have been able to reach out to them even before the administration has been able to and have started providing relief materials. Let us hope the situation normalises soon and people are able to carry on with their lives.

All photograhs courtesy: Anusha Subramanian

Anusha Subramanian started her journalism career 17 years ago as a general news reporter with Mid-Day. She has worked in the past with The Observer of Business & Politics, now defunct, Business Standard, Hindustan Times and Business Today from where she recently quit as its Associate Editor. She bagged the British Chevening Scholarship in 2012 for the South Asia Journalism programme. In the same year she also bagged the Press Club’s National Award for Excellence in journalism for her investigation into how environment clearances are given out for projects. She has been interviewed by CNN’s South Asia bureau and BBC Radio 4, London as a media expert talking about the Indian M&E sector. Anusha is a trained mountaineer and when she is not writing she is climbing mountains. Currently she is in Uttarakhand, helping in the relief work.

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