Tonnage brought to India represents largest 'fly-in' response by MSF

MSF efforts at the India earthquake may represents the largest 'fly-in' emergency relief in the shortest time ever undertaken by MSF. Currently 1,026.7 tonnes of emergency and medical materials are to be flown in for distribution by MSF. Another 20 tonnes is arriving by truck. Over 100,000 people will be assisted. The air-transport aspect of the MSF assistance should take approximately one month.

MSF is continuing to evaluate its intervention and the possible expansion of services. So far, five European charter flights, each with 40 tonnes of materials, have flown to Bhuj. The latest landed on February 16. A sixth with 30 tonnes, is scheduled for this week. There are another 39 smaller charters scheduled from Pakistan to India, including 15,530 tents.

As of February 15, a minimum of two flights with MSF tents have been cleared to land per day with 500 tents (20 tonnes) per plane. This will land 1,000-1,500 tents per day and shall continue until February 27. Three truck fleets have been contracted to deliver the goods immediately. The material is to be distributed to 59 villages in the region northeast of Bhuj where MSF is concentrating its activities. Initial estimates were for 38 villages, however MSF is locating additional, often small villages during the intervention.

As of February 18, MSF has distributed 5,542 tents. "Although the tents are temporary shelter, it gives the people comfort so that they can begin to rebuild their villages. Once they are able to get over the first phase of basic survival, then they can plan for the future," said Marc Moorrees, MSF logistician supervising one of the distribution teams.

According to the Government of Gujarat and the United Nations Disaster Co-ordination Agency (UNADC), total needs are expected to be for 250,000 tents throughout the entire earthquake zone. MSF provides 4m by 4m waxed canvas tents, designed for families and can comfortably sleep six people.

The tents have a two tear life span. Distribution provides plastic sheeting and a tent per family and one blanket per person. MSF shall be distributing over 100,000 blankets. MSF also has enough plastic sheeting for 15,000 families. As the tents have no floor, the plastic sheeting may be used to make a surface or for expanded shelter - whatever purpose the recipients choose. Adequate shelter is crucial to prevent medical complications such as pneumonia and other respiratory infections arising from exposure.

Fortunately the weather has been favourable and temperatures have risen in recent nights and recent nights have been 5c versus the below zero temperatures initially. Blankets are essential for warmth, especially at night when temperatures drop below 5c. MSF has already distributed 25,530 blankets in central Kutch and will be distributing 100,000 in total through the region. MSF received 5,000 blankets on February 14.

Starting February 14, another 35,000 blankets began arriving from Punjab by truck at a rate of 5,000 per day. An additional 40,000 blankets will be shipped from Pakistan and are scheduled to arrive in Bhuj on February 18. The trip is four days by truck. Initially 2,000 tents had to be landed at Ahmedabad and then trucked to Bhuj - a process that took nearly 24 hours to complete the round-trip journey due to the poor roads. However MSF now has permission to land at the airport in Bhuj and the remaining tents are planned to be delivered directly to the region from the point of origin in Karachi, Pakistan. Upon landing, the materials are unloaded by hand and distribution of the morning flight starts immediately.

The evening flight is distributed the following morning. MSF has already conducted medical and shelter assessments in the villages and have a coordination system with village leaders representing the communities and castes present. With the system, MSF is confident that no people will be left out of the distribution process. Once MSF arrives at the village, at a scheduled time, there is confirmation between all parties about the distribution methods, then the tents are left in the charge of the leaders who distribute the tents in their community.

MSF returns to the village a few days later to ensure the distribution did reach the intended people, regardless of religion or caste. This procedure has been functioning well since it started. Where no village or community leaders exist, MSF is distributing directly: family by family. Villagers are free to set up their tents wherever they see fit. There are no 'tent cities' being planned although they may spontaneously develop as many villagers are setting their sites near their destroyed homes. "All is gone," said Mohammed, a villager in Nagor.

"We are so glad to have these tents. Me and my family have been sleeping outside on the stones with the water buffaloes." The father of four used to sell milk from his water buffalo herd prior to the quake. Nagor is one of the almost 100 rural villages where MSF is providing emergency relief. It is a large village with 485 families and was 95 per cent destroyed by the quake. Eleven people died and 50 people were severely wounded in the earthquake.