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Sunday, 3 June, 2001, 04:16 GMT 05:16 UK
Gujarat: Rebuilding shattered lives
Workers in a brick factory
People are still trying to rebuild four months after the earthquake
By the BBC's Jill McGivering

Four months on from the earthquake that levelled parts of Gujarat, people like Mehul are still picking through the rubble of his family home.

His village, Kotdi, was totally destroyed and is still in ruins. His family has lived ever since in a makeshift tent.

They say the villagers are confused about what they are entitled to and how to rebuild. Mehul's mother, Hansa, says they are getting no help at all.

"What's the point of getting angry?" asks Hansa. "We're helpless. The government says one thing one day, another thing the next."

Rebuilding

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is visiting Gujarat to assess the progress in rebuilding its devastated communities. But although rebuilding is now under way in many areas, an estimated 600,000 people are still in basic temporary shelter.

Many who lost homes and loved ones feel forgotten. They accuse the government of failing to keep its promises of help.

A woman picks her way over earthquake rubble in Gujarat
Villagers are struggling on
In villages like Bita Valariya, rebuilding has just started. Villagers are using materials paid for by the UK, organised by Save the Children and a local network, Abhiyan.

The villagers are meant to be rebuilding earthquake-proof houses, with low stone walls and the top half made of bamboo and thatch.

But many of the houses now going up are in the traditional style with high stone walls.

"We didn't get proper guidance," says village headman Govinder Ayer, "so we started building the houses our own way. The monsoon is just around the corner and we've got to get on with it and provide shelter for everyone."

Chris Cattaway of Save the Children says they must build safely - or they will not get any more materials.

"We don't want people to make the same mistake again. A lot of people were probably killed unnecessarily because houses collapsed," he said.

"Had they followed earthquake-proof designs, those deaths need not have occurred.

"So if we're giving people the opportunity to rebuild, we want them to rebuild safe houses and we want to help them work their way through designs and help them to decide which construction methods they can use that will be safe."

Frustration

Money flooded into the area when the earthquake struck but bad communication and delays are causing immense frustration. Several hundred thousand people will face the approaching monsoon without proper shelter.


The monsoon is just around the corner

Govinder Ayer
District Collector Harsh Chibber says rebuilding urban areas is bound to take time because the planning process is long and complicated.

"For the next two months, the objections from the public will be invited, and after the public views are taken, the final development plan will be issued," he said.

"And only after the final development plan is issued, the real construction work in the urban areas will start."

Because of bureaucracy, many people have more faith in self-help than government help.

Sushma Iyengar of the non-government group Abhiyan says some well-meant intervention actually shifted the focus away from self help.

One example is the supply of so many tents.

"With tents coming in, [people] all kept waiting for tents and stopped the process of self-rehabilitation," Mr Iyengar said.

For the most vulnerable, the approaching monsoon could be another crisis. Some people have received compensation; some communities are now starting to rebuild.

But the overwhelming feeling on the ground is one of anger and frustration that more than four months since the earthquake struck, so little visible progress has been made.

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