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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 12:58 GMT
Press faults quake relief effort
Quake-hit Gujarati town of Bhuj
Bhuj - the focus of much of the relief effort
With hope rapidly fading of finding further survivors of the Gujarat earthquake, the Indian press has turned its attention to the government's handling of the relief effort.

According to The Times of India, officials manning the crisis control rooms "admit they are blundering around, not knowing how to surmount the immense challenge".

We don't have a functional system in place

Government official

"Four days after the quake struck Gujarat, the government is yet to put in place an effective machinery that could reach out to victims spread over the vast hinterland."

An official coordinating the relief effort was frank about its failings.

"While our immediate reaction to the earthquake was quite good, we are now facing problems with distribution of relief as we don't have a functional system in place."

The officials said that, as they were unable to assess the needs of outlying villages, the aid efforts were focussed on the large town of Bhuj, resulting in a "huge concentration" of resources there.

Saving lives

Communication is the key, the paper says, and lambasts government and state broadcasters for what it sees as their lacklustre response to the crisis.

"The quicker news travels, the greater the chance of saving human lives as well restoring order. But so used is the government to taking its own time that this rarely, if at all, happens."
Quake rescuers work in shadow of satellite dish
Communication the key to effective aid

The Hindu also takes up the criticism that isolated areas are being neglected.

It praises the government for overcoming "initial sluggishness" to speed food relief and medical aid to the affected areas by road and air.

But it also says major urban areas have been targetted, and "the story from the villages is largely of relief convoys speeding by, ignoring even the settlements on the highways".

"How quickly relief in the form of medical aid, food and water reaches everyone who needs it will decide by how much the aftermath of the disaster has been contained. Then will begin the next task, of rehabilitating the survivors."

The Gujarat-based The Ahmedabad stresses the neglected plight of the northern areas near the Rann of Kutch.

Action plan

"The administrative machinery does not appear to be working in full swing and has not yet drawn a concrete action plan," it says.

The quake has added to the problems of the local population.

Money has to be utilised not in quick-fix efforts

Hindustan Times

"In an area already reeling under drought, additional water demand for construction is bound to add the worries, especially when crops have failed due to scarcity of water."

Forward planning for the next quake preoccupies The Hindustan Times.

"The Gujarat earthquake has seen financial aid flowing in - with the Ministry of Finance offering a blank cheque. This money has to be utilised not in quick-fix efforts, but in establishing a reliable disaster planning mechanism."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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