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People willed out negativity

People willed out negativity

Author: Mahesh Langa
Publication: Tehalka
Date: October 29, 2005

Introduction: It is believed that Kutchi NRIs contributed more than what the government did. But locals took to rebuilding rather than wait for government support

The devastation wreaked by the October 8 quake brought back memories for residents of Kutch who were victims of a similar disaster on January 26, 2001. Four towns were reduced to rubble on the morning of Republic Day when the rest of the nation was hoisting the national flag and children were singing the national anthem in schools.

For the people of Kutch, used to famines and droughts, the killer quake was the biggest natural disaster. In a few minutes, four bustling towns - Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Lakhpat - were almost wiped out by waves of super-sized tremors, killing more than 20,000 people.

What happened afterwards is a lesson Kutch provided to the nation on how to deal with such a catastrophe. Today Kutch has emerged again thanks to the sheer determination of its people.

Just two hours after the quake, community kitchens had been started and aid from Mumbai, Kolkata and
Foreign shores started pouring in. It can be noted that expatriates from the region are a sizeable community in Mumbai, several African and Gulf countries. Within a week, a ship with relief material had arrived at Kandla port.

After four years, Kutch takes pride in the post-quake rehabilitation. Of course, there were several loopholes in the first rehabilitation package the state government had announced for the desert district.

It is believed that Kutchi NRIs, perhaps, contributed more than what the government did. But locals had taken it on themselves rather than wait for government support. Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan convenor Sandeep Virmani said that in just five months 22,000 single-room houses were built without any support from the government. His organisation played a vital role in the rehabilitation.

"We had made a rule that every able-bodied person should work. It strengthened community spirit and, in turn, that became the foundation for the long-term rehabilitation process," he said. Virmani added: "We realised early that if negativity sets in, it would be difficult to get the people working. So we began our work almost after a month when the first phase of relief was over."

According to Sushma Iyengar of Kutch Mahila Vikas Abhiyan, another leading organisation in post-quake rehabilitation, there was a strong will among the people and there was strong flow of aid from within the country as well as abroad. The aid was used in a manner that it reached the affected people, she said.

Another reason why housing rehabilitation has been done quickly is that there was no shortage of land as in terms of size, Kutch constitutes one-fourth of Gujarat and is bigger then Haryana.

"Perhaps the Kutchi spirit displayed in the post-quake period has symbolised how to deal with natural disasters. We are proud that Kutch has risen again from the ruins. But when such disasters occur elsewhere like Kashmir and Pakistan, the old memories come to haunt us and it makes us remember those 20,000 who became victims of nature's fury. We have everything back but not who left us unexpectedly," said Kirti Khatri, editor of Kutch Mitra.

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