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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 17:36 GMT
Indians mobilise for quake victims
Man holding sack
India's biggest ever relief operation is underway
By Vir Singh in Delhi

Simran Singh was driving to the Azadpur market in north Delhi when her mobile telephone rang.

I am just flooded with clothes

Relief organiser Jaya Srivastava
"Don't buy the tarpaulin sheets," the caller said. "They've managed to get some in Ahmedabad."

Singh is one of thousands of people here in the Indian capital who are mobilising aid for victims of last week's earthquake which rocked the western state of Gujarat.

People across the country are collecting food, medicines, clothes, blankets and other emergency supplies in what is perhaps India's biggest ever relief operation.

Rima Sehgal, a friend of Singh's, says she was overwhelmed by the response to her appeal for help.

The two women are running this relief effort with a friend in Gujarat's commercial capital, Ahmedabad, who has relatives working with social organisations in some of the worst-hit areas.

Unprecedented response

Ms Sehgal feels the response to this natural disaster is unprecedented.

She says the reaction, especially in cities, is "more emotional" than the response to earlier tragedies such as the cyclone that ravaged large parts of eastern India 15 months ago.

Sardar collection in Delhi
Collections are taking place across the country
"At that time, we just signed cheques for the relief fund. Here, with all these high rises falling, there's been this response that 'God, it could have been us.'"

Everyone is trying to do their bit.

Schools have launched appeals for food and clothes.

Transport operators have offered to ferry supplies to earthquake-hit areas free of charge.

Newspapers have launched relief funds, while television and radio stations are broadcasting messages from anxious relatives.

"I am just flooded with clothes," says Jaya Srivastava of Ankur, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working to educate children from Delhi's slums.

She visited Gujarat a few years ago and, like Singh and Sehgal, has links with some of the organisations leading the on-going earthquake relief efforts.

Difficult to organise

"We are small-small NGOs here," says Srivastava.

Relief supplies
A major issue is deciding what is needed and where
"But because of the networking and because of our collaboration with the groups there, we are able to do our bit."

Organising the aid is a tricky business.

Although truckloads of clothes have been donated, it seems these may not be needed.

The Hindustan Times newspaper carried a front-page picture of a huge pile of unclaimed clothes beside the main road near Ahmedabad, one of the many towns where entire buildings collapsed.

This puts people like Sehgal in a dilemma.

What to do with all of the clothes that have cluttered her basement?

Is it possible that clothes are needed in the worst-hit areas, just not in relatively prosperous Ahmedabad?

Targeting relief

Now that the shock of the first few days has eased, citizens' groups are focusing their efforts on making sure the aid going to Gujarat is appropriate and is going where it is needed most.

Sehgal and Singh telephone their friend almost every day to ask what they should send.

They have also used the internet to send out appeals by e-mail and to prepare lists of supplies.

The latest reports indicate that there is already too much aid in Gujarat for the authorities to handle.

So some would-be donors have been asked to wait until relief workers there ask for more provisions.

Sehgal says requests for supplies have been made, modified, then cancelled at the last minute.

"It's a very fluid situation."

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | UK
UK quake appeal launched
31 Jan 01 | South Asia
Disease risks
30 Jan 01 | South Asia
Aid effort switches to survivors
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