A truckload of food randomly delivered by a Sri Lankan businessman staved off a crisis yesterday in a ‘‘hungry’’ refugee camp where local officials refused even to admit there was a shortage.
The incident replays in various camps across Lanka and India where industrial barons and newly-minted millionaires are putting things in place when the government machinery fails.
In Nagapattinam, no government official was stationed at the marriage halls this week that had been turned into relief camps. No one had yet tried to compile a list of the missing. No system was in place to ensure that the truckloads of donations coming in were properly distributed.
‘‘There is no guidance from the government on how to support the people, so all over Nagapattinam there is wastage of food material, clothes,’’ said V. Ramani, a doctor and founder of a Tamil Nadu-based NGO.
Along Nagapattinam’s streets on Friday, piles of donated old clothes lay untouched and unwanted. Yet trucks laden with more clothes from businesses and aid groups kept pulling up to the district office, where they were promptly turned away. One of them had brought a load of old clothes nearly 600 miles from Bangalore, and spent around Rs 9,000 on the transport. ‘‘We could have given the money directly to relief,’’ he said ruefully.
Over five days in both countries, the challenge has often been less a lack of resources than the organisation to match them with the victims’ needs. Washed out roads in this region, for instance, have yet to be repaired for a fifth straight day, leaving the area cut off from food stockpiles in nearby towns.
The flood of help from NGOs and individuals was producing problems, said Shantha Sheela Nair, acting relief commissioner in Nagapattinam district. Donors with rice, medicine and clothes, she said, were giving everything at the first camps they saw. Yet until Friday evening, when she convened a meeting with the groups, there had been little effort to coordinate their work. Nor, said Samuel Thomas, the programme director for HOPE Worldwide in India, a faith-based organisation, were the groups cooperating with each other.
A truck carrying the sign Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited Industrial Systems Group Bangalore pulled up laden with clothes, rice, biscuits, water and more. Within minutes, the outside of the marriage hall was a scene of chaos that built to a near riot.
At the Thambiluvil Elementary School in Sri Lanka on Friday, principal Vaniyasingham Jayanthan panicked as food supply for hundreds of families he was sheltering at the school was nearly gone. By night, there would be no food.
Then a Land Cruiser pulled up and food and relief materials worth Rs 22.5 lakh rolled in. The delivery was one of thousands, possibly tens of thousands, by members of the country’s burgeoning business elite who rented vehicles, filled them with food and drove toward the country’s ravaged coast.
New York Times