Flood Relief Work by SKCF: Reports by Kshitij Sharma

SKCF will publish a number of reports (and photos) on the recent flood relief work it has been coordinating.

The following excellent report, dated 26 July 2013, was prepared by Kshitij Sharma. Also, below this, is his separate earlier report of his experience and challenges faced at the camp.

Sone Ki Chidiya Federation decided to get involved in the Uttarakhand Disaster Relief Project on 22nd June and in less than a month we received 3 truck loads of stuff for affected people of Uttarakhand from all over India. The phones started ringing from day we put up our contact details on our website (sonekichidiya.in) and more so when our name was published in Times of India on June 24th and again on June 27th in TOI Mumbai edition as one of the organisations involved in helping with the relief activities. Truly India cared for the victims and it showed in the calls we got and the relief material we received. In addition to the relief material we received more than Rs 9 lacs.

The news reports that poured in from Uttarakhand were troubling to say the least. The state administration had failed and the relief material from all over India was lying in trucks that were stuck on the highways for days. Moreover there were other reports that the relief material that was initially collected catered to the tourists that were stuck in Uttarakhand and after the tourists were rescued/returned, the locals had little need for biscuits etc and now the need was to restore the livelihood of locals whose houses were damaged/destroyed, whose small farms were made barren by land slides and with no source of income as earning members had lost there lives.

Bearing all this in mind, we decided that we should target places which were affected by landslides and floods but were not widely covered by other organisations. Places where transaction cost of reaching the affected people was minimum. And the relief provided was maximum.

A grass roots team was formed which was placed in Thatyur. The main task assigned to the team was to do a survey in villages in and around Thatyur and make a list of families that needed most help. We decided that we would give at least Rs 5000 to each family identified by our team. Basic needs of people in these villages were also communicated to our team in Delhi and Dehradun so that we could re-arrange the relief material received.

After all this ground work we decided to hold a relief camp in and around Thatyur to distribute the relief material on the ground and give monetary aid to the identified beneficiaries.

A team of volunteers joined as we headed towards Thatyur from Delhi. Our base camp was in Manav Sewa Ashram in Kuthal Gate, Dehradun. There the stuff that was delivered from Delhi was re-arranged with the help of volunteers and was divided such that two smaller trucks traveled with the team led by Wg Cdr KK Verma and RK Atri on 19th and two more on the 20th. 

Once there, the distribution was carried out keeping in mind the needs of the people. As an example we encountered a lot of tea-stalls owners whose houses were damaged and their families were living in the shops since the tragedy happened. We decided impromptu to give biscuits/cookies (which we had received in abundance) to such shopkeepers so they could sell them and earn money out of it. The clothes distribution was done in a market like manner where to a large extent people were allowed to choose according to their needs. Rice and wheat was divided in small packets and was provided to the needy as identified by the grass roots team. 

The experience was overwhelming for the team as the task was daunting. The team made sure that the last mile delivery of the relief material was successful and most of the affected people benefited from the exercise.

Challenges faced on the ground


20th July was the second day of distribution of the relief material in Thatyur and adjoining villages that is when I joined the team. The weather and land slides along the way slowed us down considerably but we continued on this experience with the sole aim to provide whatever help we had to offer to the affected people.

There was much to learn like, on a personal note, I realized that there is bound to be a clash between the design of direct cash transfer and its implementation when all the variables involved like, the context, are not taken into account in the design itself. 

The experience, value add and reality check under the tutelage of KK Verma and Ram Atri  for the volunteers was immense. The main problem was identifying the beneficiaries. Without the grass roots work that Shriom and team did in identifying the people it wouldn't have been possible to even reach the affected villages, let alone do some good. 

As others would also agree/share that there were many people in the villages who did not want us to do this work. eg one influential person (was it the village sarpanch?) who alleged that we were dividing the village by giving money to only 25 families out of the 110 families of the entire village. Our counter that only those families were affected and needed the money did not make sense to him as he had an agenda of becoming a hero by showing to the entire village that he made sure everyone got the money. There were many challenges like these but as I said earlier with experience and guidance of Atri ji and KK along with the ground work of Shriom, the cash transfer was a success.

Distribution of relief material was a different kind of challenge. While doing the activity the question arose that how can we decide what does the affected person want? Whether it is clothes (especially when you have a truck load of random clothes in all shapes and sizes) or utensils etc after you have done the mammoth task of identifying who the affected person is?!

To get better of the situation we tried all kinds of permutations, like, 

FirstComeFirstServe – however it lead to people fighting over the fact that the person in front has unfair advantage as he/she has more options to choose from and he/she may not get the clothes that he/she may want – we handled this with some success by placing a volunteer at the back of the line who took back the clothes that the person did not need. 

Letting the people choose from the entire truck load of stuff by placing with the help of volunteers displaying them – this lead to quarrel over two or more hands wanting the same thing. 

Some people complained that people who were not affected by the flood/landslide in the village were also collecting relief material but this was countered by the strictness and maturity that some of the younger volunteers displayed and also in the village elders who named/shamed those people and they backed off on their own.

Overall it was a great experience which has to be built upon. Being a part of SKCF/SBP since last two months I have a suggestion, that if we are to continue any ground level activity we need to contribute, let us say, 10% of our monthly salaries to SKCF so that unnecessary burden does not fall on the shoulders of one or two individuals, after all, when such work takes place it is SKCF which is growing. 

The effort of the volunteers, namely, Ujjawal, Seema, Rinkie, Gaurav, Arpit, Shalini, Atul, Tarun, Anoop and Virat has to be lauded.

Please find below the link where I have uploaded the pics of Day 2: http://goo.gl/Tsvk6s

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