p align=”center”>By the Brahmaputra (Vol: 6)
(For the quarter April – June 2009)
As the impact of Cyclone Aila showed, we as a nation are ill-prepared and equipped to deal with disasters and calamities. This is especially true of our political leadership and the government structures which are the first responders to such a crisis. Despite all the talk about disaster planning and various plans being “developed” by the states and the Centre, when the test comes, we are really found wanting. This is especially unfortunate since there is a National Disaster Management Authority, headed by the former chief of army staff, Gen. NC Vij, with a team of officials, specialists and former army generals and police chiefs as members. One does not hear about the role of the NDMA although it is functional and has in fact prepared a charter of programmes which would equip state and district administrations, as well as panchayats, civil society groups and academics as well as professionals to actively address problems when they arise. Yet, these charters, which have been published in nicely bound manuals, have not caught the attention of the public or of the media nor even of the state governments, which are the key players in a disaster scenario. I say this as a member of the national Advisory Council of the NDMA. The reason is not far to seek — there needs to be a systematic approach that enables the media to understand the issues and focus on them in a simple and clear manner instead of blowing them up or focussing only on one aspect or the other. Partly the media is to blame for this situation and its own lack of knowledge — it has a very short attention span: barely is one crisis over, then it moves, with cameras flashing, news channels running and headlines booming, to the next problem to feed a hungry public. But there is time for better preparedness both on the side of administration at all levels as well as the media. The media is always requiring sources for information, good sources make for good stories. And there are few better than the NDMA as far as disaster preparedness and handling are concerned. Without proper research, there cannot be coherent and clear reporting; without understanding the core of the problems and how to deal with it and reach relief swiftly and effectively as well as on a sustained basis to the affected populations, politicians and administrators will run into a storm of public fury as the West Bengal Chief Minister realized. There is no need for vulnerable populations to be devastated time and again because of the ineffectiveness and ill preparedness of governments. NGOs and media will also have to gear up now to meet the oncoming burst of floods and high water in Assam as well as the landslides and property damage that will occur in the hills, caused death and destruction all around. What is required therefore is for the NDMA to move into high gear to enable the local governments and organizations as well as partner and train local communities to prepare for the problems so that the people are better prepared to meet the onslaught of floods than they have been in the past. I am not even sure if many in Assam are aware that there is a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) Battalion (located in Guwahati, near the airport) which is basically the Border Security Force there. This group’s unit in West Bengal did excellent work during the Aila disaster. It needs to be activated ahead of time and work with local groups so that both preparedness and mitigation (which are key to disaster management) are covered adequately. In addition, enough mental health counsellors need to be pressed into service at times of floods so that both physical and trauma issues are tackled in a rational and scientific manner. After all, a person who has lost a relative or her or her house and property several times during a calender year will be suffering from a variation of PTSS (Post Trauma Stress Syndrome). This is where the role of the boat clinics that we now run in partnership with the National Rural Health Mission in 10 districts of Assam becomes even more critical – we need to go beyond the “normal” work of immunization campaigns, treatment and health check ups which our teams are doing wonderfully for tens of thousands of poor and marginalized people but also into new areas with the help of specialists and in partnership with organizations such as the NDMA.
UNICEF Documentary on Akha
C-NES’ partnership with UNICEF began in July 2006 through Akha, “the Ship of Hope in the Valley of Floods,” to provide health services, training and awareness on health, sanitation, livestock care and education to the poor and marginalized in the river islands of the Brahmaputra in Dibrugarh district and was responsible for the surge in medical coverage, health check ups and treatment of pregnant women.
In May 2009, a UNICEF team visited Aichung sapori, in Dibrugarh district for shooting a documentary film on the Akha outreach even as a regular monthly camp was being conducted. In spite of a heavy downpour the night before and an overcast sky, the camp as well as the shooting went off smoothly with community support and participation. Shots were taken of the health camp, a bridge course school (Part of C-NES’ education programme with UNICEF support) and a mock emergency exercise by the boat crew and community workers of C-NES.
C-NES’ partnership with UNICEF is important in terms of sustainability of the health outreach programme, design of implementation, capacity building and training as well as the education outreach programme for children who have dropped out or never been at school in Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur districts.
Solar ILR installed
UNICEF has recently donated Solar Ice Line Refrigerators (ILR) and tents for the Boat Clinics. The ILRs have been installed in the three Boat Clinics of upper Assam – Akha in Dibrugarh, Swaminathan in Tinsukia and Shahnaz in Dhemaji and will lead to an improved performance of the immunization programme.
C-NES Trustee visit Boat Clinics
Coordination meetings, visits by experts and refresher meets are regular features of C-NES- NRHM partnership’s Boat Clinic Programme. Mr Chaman Lal, C-NES Trustee and former Special Rapporteur at the National Human Rights Commission, also former DGP, Nagaland, visited seven of the ten boat clinic districts in May 2009 to review the activities of the Boat Clinics. Mr Lal was on a similar mission last year (July 2008) to the two upper Assam districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh.
He interacted at length with the boat clinic staff, local community members, district authorities and NRHM officials. In his visits to Dhubri, Barpeta, Nalbari and Morigaon he was accompanied by the Associate Programme Manager, Sanjay Sharma. He met the Sonitpur, Lakhimpur and Jorhat teams at C-NES’ Guwahati office and reviewed the work of these new boat clinic districts. For his visits to upper Assam, he was accompanied by the Programme Manager, Ashok Rao. He attended health camps at Dhubri, Nalbari,Morigaon and Dhemaji.
During the course of his visit he met Dr J.B.Ekka, Mission Director, NRHM at Guwahati. He also met the Deputy Commissioners of Barpeta and Dibrugrah in their respective districts.
Sanjoy Hazarika at World Social Science Forum at Norway
Sanjoy Hazarika , C-NES Managing Trustee, participated in the World Social Science Forum at Bergen, Norway, as a special invitee to the international conference from May 10-12 that drew hundreds of social scientists from across the world, including Nobel Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen, as well as the chairman of the Intern-Government Panel for Climate Change, Dr. RK Pachauri, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Mr. Hazarika, the only participant from the North East at the international conference, chaired a panel discussion on “The future of armed conflict” on May 12. The panelists included Håvard Hegre, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, Indra de Soysa, Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, and Major General A N M Muniruzzaman, President of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Studies in Dhaka.
According to the organizers, “the purpose of the panels (on conflict) is to engage academics and practitioners in a dialogue on conflict resolution and prevention. The speakers are not supposed to present detailed current work in progress, but rather summarize the theoretical and empirical literature in their own broader study areas, with a primary reference to research” being conducted on these issues.
The larger conference included plenary sessions, parallel sessions (panels) and poster sessions. India was represented by a group of distinguished scholars, included faculty from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
C-NES – NRHM’s Health Initiative completes a year
The unique partnership between the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES) and the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) covering a health initiative has completed a year and covered close to 1.5 lakh persons on the saporis of the Brahmaputra in 10 districts who were earlier without sustained health care.
The focus of the Public-Private Partnership, which began in March 2008, has been women and children although the general population also benefits from the initiative which is implemented through health teams on specially designed and built boat clinics, which have not just medical personnel on board but also a lab and pharmacy. NRHM funds the activities of the project and villagers in isolated areas say they have benefited from the program.
With vast parts of rural Assam still deprived of modern health infrastructure, C-NES’ boat clinics have brought succour to vulnerable communities in riverine areas who remain untouched by development activities.
“The Boat clinic initiative has established healthcare as an institution in the chars/saporis of Assam. The partnership with C-NES has resulted in the overall improvement of delivering healthcare to the isolated communities, especially with immunization of women and children” said Dr J B Ekka, Mission Director, NRHM.
C-NES’ Managing Trustee, Sanjoy Hazarika, who conceptualized the program says that the outreach is beyond his expectations. “We began with a simple idea, with one ship, in one district – Dibrugarh,” says Hazarika. “Today, the implementation of the programme in 10 districts with a staff of nearly 130 with 20 doctors and to nurses and paramedics as well as the unstinted support we have received from NRHM shows that truly there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come; we are delivering not just health care but enabling people to access their basic right to a better quality of life.”
From the boat clinics
Popularity of camps
It is a seven-hour boat ride for the health team to Amarpur sapori in Tinsukia district, an arduous journey, more so during monsoons, with water levels rising.
In spite of difficulties accessing the areas, the health team is overwhelmed by the local support and appreciation while conducting health camps to people who have never received any medical support before the boat clinic’s intervention. Madhurpur village (in Amarpur) is about 10 kms away from the ghat and the team has to travel in a tractor. It is usually a large gathering of 200 people eagerly waiting here for the general check up. The next camp in the neighboring village of Chiling has over 100 people waiting in anticipation. After regular visits by the health team, the nearby villagers have also started attending the camps, some walking for 4-5 kilometers.
On a return journey after a camp at Laika Phasidia( Tinsukia district), the boat clinic was beached in the shallower part of the river. The team spent a disturbed night at the boat. Early the next morning, enthusiastic villagers, helped move the boat out. The Health Team has managed to strike the right chord with the locals with regular health care services who in return, offer unstinted support to the team.
The Dibrugarh (Boat Clinic) Health Team participated in the District Health Mela 2009 held at the Bindhakata Community Hall in Dibrugarh. There was a long queue of patients at the C-NES stall. The team conducted 178 check ups (of the total 740 patients at the Mela), the highest conducted by any of the participating groups.
Bullock Cart for team
The Boat Clinic introduced in Sonitpur district from March 2009 has become popular with the locals. The Health team is met with enthusiasm in each new village. During recent visits to the remote villages of Kheseri Topu and Pub Lengbhanga to conduct health camps, local villagers- Muzibur Ali and Mohidul Islam provided their bullock carts to transport medicines, vaccines and equipment for the team as the village was at a distance of about 3 kms away from the river bank where the boat clinic was anchored. They expressed their gratitude to the team.
The Oil India Limited supported Boat, for the Jorhat Boat Clinic is slowly taking shape. The boat is being constructed at Majuli, the world’s largest river island, with local carpenters, boat builders and raw materials. This donation by OIL was part of its golden jubilee celebration this year.
The boat, on completion will be 75 ft long, 15 ft wide and like the earlier Boat Clinics will have provisions for an OPD, cabins for medical staff, laboratory, kitchen, toilets and crew quarters. It will also be equipped with a generator, water tank and powered by a 120 hp engine. A hired boat is now conducting the Boat Clinic at Jorhat district, which got underway in January 2009.
Boat Clinic Feedback
Santa Das aged 70, from Erahuti sapori in Tinsukia was suffering from acute hypertension. After attending the boat clinic health camps the last one year, his condition has improved with regular medicines/ treatments. His community is happy with the health intervention.
Sankhadhar Doley, a teacher and social worker in Tinsukia’s Amarpur Sapori appreciates the health intervention in his remote village. He has yet to miss a single camp, as an active member, helping out in conducting the camps and involving the local community.
Mogen Missong, an elderly Mishing community leader from Dibrugarh’s Aichung sapori, is” very happy” with the health camps in his remote village. “Earlier we had to spend a whole day to even reach the nearest health centre,” he added.
Galung Pegu, the village headman of Lakhimpur’s Kankan sapori was pleased to see the Boat Clinic. “This is the first ever such health intervention here and my community will give full support to the health team” he assured the team members.
CCA Workshop at Nowgong
Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) play a significant role in the conservation of biological diversity. In the last few years the north east region has attracted both national and international attention for numerous conservation efforts by local communities. In this context a workshop on Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) of North East India was organized by Kalpavriksh, Biodiversity and Conservation Programme and Winrock International India in May 2009 at Nowgaon Girls College, Nowgoan, Assam.
C-NES’ Bhaswati Goswami participated in the workshop and gave an overview of the organization’s dolphin conservation project, and its many achievements at the workshop. This project supported by Ford Foundation has reached completion in March 2009.
Also speaking at the workshop, Dr V Darlong from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) highlighted the need to have an informative directory of leading NGO’s of the region and suggested that a “creditable organization” like C-NES can become the nodal agency for such organizations in the region.
C-NES has been implementing an education initiative since February 2008 with UNICEF support – that of up scaling education with reference to school dropouts in the char/saporis of Dibrugarh. Children who are dropouts have been identified in the project location. The thrust of the project is on including children from all social groups to mainstream education, working with the community to generate ownership of schools and encouraging community engagements in activities relating to schools and education. The project upon completion of a year has seen a positive response from the local communities who have begun to understood the importance of education and have accordingly started primary level feeder schools in their saporis where students can regularly attend classes. This year(2009) three Upper Primary feeder schools in Harlowa Balua, Lowkiwali and Mohmora sapori were set up with the help of local communities. The education initiative has been further upscaled to include Lakhimpur district
The year old education project has been largely responsible for parents beginning to understand the importance of education, especially for the girl child. A series of awareness programmes have led to unprecedented growth of an educational environment..
Through a series of training, teachers have been imparted with up dated methods of teaching thereby making learning more interesting and fun for the children. Vocational training to girls have been provided to make them self employed in future. Sarba Siksha Abhigyan has also provided necessary requirements like free textbooks and resource persons for the teachers training programme for implementing this project. The educational coordinator has regular interactions with the children and the school management committee. Sports goods were distributed recently among the students by the educational coordinator.
The educational and the health team work together. The medical team conducts monthly health check ups along with supplying Vitamin-A supplements and de-worming. During the summer months most children are found suffering from worms, cough, eczema and headaches. The health team provides them the required medicines.