Parangippettai, Tamil Nadu state, India, November 2005. The only way to get access to the flooded district of Chidambaram (Cuddalore region) was by sea. Through this boat transportation, MSF has been able to bring blankets for more than 1,300 families. "We decided to focus our action in this area because it had been neglected by relief operations," said Cedric Martin, MSF head of mission for India. "All aid efforts were addressed to the villages that had been already affected by the tsunami of 2004. Nobody came to these villages to help people."
It is monsoon season in southern Asia and for almost three months now, monsoon rains and storms have been battering Tamil Nadu state in southern India. This area, already trying to recover from the tsunami of December 2004, is suffering from a second onslaught - this time reaching areas that were unaffected by the tsunami.
MSF has started operations in the region, focusing specifally on villages that have been neglected in current relief operations. In part, their neglect is due to the very good luck that had spared them in the tsunami disaster. Other villages, victims of the tsunami, were already benefitting from tsunami-related relief efforts over the past year - a system of care already present.
On November 27, a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team started providing medical and logistical assistance to people in rural areas of Chidambaram, south of Cuddalore. From there, mobile teams brought aid to the villages of Elanangoor, Sivayam, Panchayat of Thirunariyur and Panchayat of Sirakalamdanallur, with a total population of more than 10,000 people and which had been completely cut off for five days.
"We decided to focus our action in this area because it had been neglected by relief operations," said Cedric Martin, MSF head of mission for India. "All aid efforts were addressed to the villages that had been already affected by the tsunami of 2004. Nobody came to these villages to help people."
When the first team arrived in the area, it faced a scenario where many huts had been washed away and people had lost all their belongings.
In some areas, the water level has reached 1.5m to 2m above ground level and people have moved into temples, mosques, schools and community buildings. Strong community networks provided the first essential help to those who had lost their homes and livestock.
Because of the tsunami, there was already a mobile clinic and pharmacy in a bus, used to treat people from place to place. This has enabled MSF to move around the villages in this new emergency to provide medical assistance. In less than two weeks, the MSF team distributed blankets to 1,300 families and carried out an average of 70 consultations a day.
"Even though people were already vulnerable due to a general lack of access to health care, no severe skin infections have been found and luckily the number of diarrhoea cases was not representative of any outbreaks," said Martin. "We have used our medical consultations as an alert system to monitor for any predictive signs of communicable diseases. With the dead animals, surface waters could easily have contaminated the wells of drinking water and we had to remain vigilant."
The main problem now is shelter. In some places where people have started rebuilding, the work takes several days. In other areas, reconstruction could take at least two months.
At the beginning of the operation, MSF also helped a local non-governmental organisation, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), to buy food and set up small community kitchens.
"Now the number of consultations has decreased and we don't have any alarming signs of epidemic diseases," said Martin, "Consequently we're decreasing our presence in Tamil Nadu and will close the project before the end of the month. Now is the time of reconstruction, a role which belongs to the Indian Government."