|Article- Boston Group Helping Victims Of Cyclone Aila|
By MARK CONNORS
The low-lying island-like region, located at the mouth of several major rivers along the Bangladesh border, was battered by the cyclone, but victims of the destruction have largely been hampered in its aftermath by the remoteness of the area and long delays in aid distribution. Partly as a result of the region’s isolation, the storm failed to garner significant media attention in either India or the West. The Indian government has largely been ineffective in distributing humanitarian help, AID volunteers said.
“The suffering is aggravated because the victims are not getting the help they need,” said Prasad Chandra, a member of the AID-Boston chapter. “In many areas, no aid has arrived and there are no reconstruction efforts underway.”
AID coordinator Somnath Mukherji said the organization has struggled to raise humanitarian funds for the disaster because many people throughout the United States are not even aware of the cyclone, much less the scope of its devastation.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” he said.
The AID organization distributed $21,000 from its reserve fund immediately after the cyclone struck to aid humanitarian efforts. The funds were allocated to four different aid groups working on the ground in the affected areas. Now the organization’s focus is on helping the clean-up and reconstruction efforts.
The region affected, a vast area of dozens of islands located along India’s westernmost shoreline, is extremely low-lying and thus is now particularly vulnerable to flooding because the cyclone destroyed embankments and levies that serve as basic protection, Mukherji said. An extremely high tide is forecasted for the area in coming days, making the situation particularly pressing.
“We’re literally racing against time to rebuild the embankments,” Mukherji said. “The needs in the region are very immediate.”
So far, Boston-based fundraising efforts have been relatively low-key in nature, Chandra said. Volunteers have reached out largely through e-mail chains and social networking sites, although some members did gather in Harvard Square during the Harvard commencement to solicit funds, as well. The organization is considering launching a telethon to aid in the efforts.
Even before Cyclone Aila struck, residents of the Sundarbans region had endured extreme hardships. Many of its residents are extremely poverty stricken and access to basic services and hospital care is extremely limited. The ecologically sensitive region is also bearing the brunt of climate change. The area is so low-lying, Chandra said, that many islands are literally fighting to remain above water. “Much of the farmland has been salinated and destroyed,” said Chandra. “Some of the islands are completely submerged.”
But natives of the region are strong and resilient, Chandra said, as evidenced by the manner in which they’ve handled the most recent disaster.
“If you look at the pictures, the people are standing amid all this death and destruction, and they manage to keep their good humor; they’re smiling and laughing,” he said. “They handle adversity very well.”
For more information about Cyclone Aila or the Association for India’s Development, or to make a donation to the humanitarian efforts, visit www.aidindia.org.
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