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Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 13:34 GMT
Aid workers' huge task
75-year-old Kanwar Behn is rescued after 96 hours under the rubble by a Russian rescue team at Bhachau, India
Hopes of finding more trapped survivors are diminishing
An Oxfam aid worker in Gujarat has been describing the scale of the catastrophe as relief workers struggle to help survivors.

Speaking from Ahmedabad, Savio Cavalho told BBC News Online that the quake which has so far claimed the lives of 20,000 people had been a "phenomenal disaster".

He said there is still an urgent need for aid and support in the region.

Essential food and clothing has started to arrive in the major cities and towns, although Mr Cavalho said on Tuesday that aid workers had still not reached some of the more remote areas.

Some 'miracles'

Relatives of those missing are still holding on to hopes that more people will be found alive.

"There have been some miracles," said Mr Carvalho, but as time passes hopes are beginning to fade and teams have started to use bulldozers and heavy machinery to clear the rubble.

They are now concerned about the health hazards faced by the survivors.
A man scavenges through the rubble of his destroyed home in Anjar
Survivors search for what little they can salvage from their homes

"It's a real gamble. At one level you have to look at public health, get corpses out and have cremations, and at another level, there can be miracles - there can be people living."

Oxfam, in common with other relief agencies, is now focusing most of its efforts on providing aid in the form of shelter, water and sanitation.

Often in disasters on this scale, many people die from water-borne diseases brought on by contamination of drinking supplies.

The Oxfam aid worker said all the sanitation systems in Ahmedabad have broken down.

"Right now, people are just on open ground - they're living in any safe place under the sky," he said.

But he is confident that the medical and other emergency teams have averted the danger of a major epidemic.

Personal grief

The relief agencies themselves have been affected by the disaster.

The Oxfam headquarters in Ahmedabad is unsafe to use and the team has been working from a make-shift office.

Makeshift medical centre in Anjar
Makeshift medical centres have been set up
Mr Cavalho told of the bravery of local aid workers, many of whom have been bereaved by the disaster.

Even though they have lost their own relatives and homes, they are still devoting time and energy to the relief effort.

"We heard a story this morning of an NGO which lost two of their staff, and they managed to garner their team back together saying: 'Even though we have lost people from our own team, we need to get on.'"

Long-term aid

Thoughts are now turning to the future for the people of Gujarat.

"The long-term is going to be a disaster in itself. It's not just food, clothing and shelter - we need to help people to reconstruct and get back on their feet."

Discussions are centred on how buildings can be reconstructed to avoid a repetition of the scale of devastation.

The traditional building methods may have to be overhauled to take into account the threat of further seismic activity.

And the ethics of housing more and more people in disaster-prone areas will once again be put in the spotlight.

Mr Cavalho is currently working up to 15 hours a day co-ordinating the relief effort but despite the harrowing nature of his job, he is not complaining.

"It's really hectic and emotionally draining but it's also a challenge and a commitment that one really wants to work towards because one wants to make a difference," he said.

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29 Jan 01 | South Asia
Prosperous Gujarat laid low
28 Jan 01 | South Asia
India seeks $1.5bn loan
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