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  • Govt response at emergency since the first major quake has been disastrous
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May 17, 2015-

It has already been three weeks since the first major earthquake struck. If the government’s ability to provide tarpaulins—either through international, national, or private efforts—to the displaced is taken as a metaphor for its capacity for emergency response, it has largely been a failure. Thousands of people in the affected districts still lack even the most rudimentary shelters and even those who have received tarps are suffering. The tarps were generally of poor quality and barely able to withstand the elements. Moreover, through rain and hail, many of these tarps developed holes and tears and are now barely usable. While local governments have been working day and night to provide relief supplies to people in the affected districts, they have found it very difficult to procure adequate supplies from the centre.

There is an urgent need to improve supply chains and speed up the delivery of relief goods to the districts. And among relief goods, shelter has to be given the utmost priority.

The monsoon is now fast approaching and within the next month, the government and other agencies need to concentrate on providing shelter on a mass scale. Tarps and tents will not be able to withstand the monsoon downpour. The best option at the moment, therefore, is to provide zinc sheets to families that have lost their homes. In many of the affected districts, locals know how to build shelters from these sheets. To supplement local efforts, the government should provide experts to guide those in need. In fact, the Cabinet has already decided that zinc sheets should be provided on a war footing and has said that experts too will be provided to install them on ground zero.

There is one aspect of the government’s decision that is somewhat worrisome. It has decided that it cannot supply zinc sheets fast enough and has thus decided to give each affected family Rs 15,000 in cash to buy such sheets. But the problem is that there is already a shortage of sheets in the market, and their price has surged in some areas. This may mean that Rs 15,000 will not be enough. Besides, in the more remote areas, people lack access to markets. Of course, the government states that it will work hard to ensure adequate supply of zinc sheets in the market.

Given that the government’s efforts at procurement have been very poor so far, there is room to doubt whether it will be able to do this. There is a chance that politicians will hand over the money to the families and then use this as an opportunity to shirk their responsibility to actually provide zinc sheets in adequate quantities. This should not be allowed to happen. The bureaucracy has to devise and implement policies that prevent the export of sheets, lead to a major rise in their import, and ensure their distribution across affected areas. Civil society and the media need to monitor this process and hold the government to account.


Published: 18-05-2015 08:34

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