With truck-loads of relief material reaching rain-ravaged Chennai, the city faced a problem — a lack of coordination between government agencies and independent relief teams.
Hundreds of volunteers working with different organisations, and even individuals offering help in Chennai, its suburbs and other northern districts — including Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur and Cuddalore — were found extending help with little clue about the locations that actually needed it the most.
“The government machinery remains inadequate in trying to figure out the ground situation. They need to tell us about the precise ground situation so that we can reach there. In many places, relief has already reached. In some cases, volunteers told me about incidents where they found people selling sanitary napkins they received in excess. When hundreds of independent volunteers are making their efforts to help people, we have no source of information on places without any flood as we have been depending on unverified information. It would have been great had the government shared their precise information on flood-affected people,” said a leading actor, who did not wish to be named.
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The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which was serving as the government’s main relief centre, and hundreds of other independent centres collecting relief material remained disconnected.
“Had there been a media centre and frequent briefing from the government on the status of flood-hit areas and the relief work, it would have been great for hundreds of relief workers,” said a volunteer.
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A top official admitted that the limited media briefing, meant to avoid spreading “bad news”, was eventually leading to rumours, which in turn impacted government efforts.
Also, truck-loads of relief material from other cities and states were left without any valid destination for delivery and distribution as the government had not opened any collection centre or taken any measures for coordinate their dispatch.
A senior official told The Indian Express that the government’s focus was on rescue operations till Saturday and all nodal offices across districts and nodal points would be ready by Monday to receive relief and help.
So far, more than 1.27 lakh people have been evacuated from the inundated areas, with over 10,000 being rescued in the last two days, according to official estimates.
While around 62,200 people have been sheltered at 97 government-run relief camps in Chennai city, the conditions posed a health threat because of a lack of adequate number of toilets.
While a shelter in Tambaram that housed over 3,000 people had around 20 mobile toilets, a camp in Pulianthope with some 800 people had seven toilets available inside the school premises that housed it.
Semmencherry, in the city’s suburb that houses over 15,000 people relocated from slums over several years, also faced serious threat of water contamination reportedly due to sewage lines getting mixed with storm water drains.
A top official monitoring relief operations said the government had so far distributed over 14.5 lakh food packets in Chennai alone.
By Sunday afternoon, over 40,000 people had been screened at 141 health camps and 99 mobile camps being run by the city corporation. According to the government’s assessment, nearly 436 areas in the city still remained inundated out of the total 859 identified during the past four days.
Some 30 officers including government secretaries were deployed for segregating and dispatching flood relief material from the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to various places, based on inputs given by the police and revenue officials.