St Mary’s School in the town of Suntikoppa in Karnataka’s Kodagu district was a bustle of activity on Tuesday. Around 400 people from nearby towns and villages who were chased out of their homes by landslides and floods have taken shelter here. Piles of relief material – clothes, raincoats, bedsheets, blankets, food and medicines – lay everywhere. Harish, who was coordinating relief efforts, said this was way more than what was needed. He also said, with faint exasperation, that a lot of the material coming in was unusable and unnecessary.
“People do not know what to send,” the civil engineer said. “They are sending Maggi and Kurkure.”
Pointing to a volunteer serving rice, dal and vegetables to inmates, he added, “We are trying to give them nutritious food here.”
Volunteers at relief centres in other parts of the coffee-growing district echoed his view with some saying cash donations were more urgently required.
A week after heavy rain triggered landslides and floods that wiped out entire villages, left eight dead and thousands homeless, relief material continues to pour into Kodagu, which borders flood-devastated Kerala. Despite warnings of more landslides, a steady stream of trucks, tempos and cars carries aid into Kodagu. Many of them sport stickers and banners announcing that they are relief vehicles. They come not only from Bengaluru and Mysuru but from places farther off like Raichur and Gadag districts.
Buckets, not old clothes
At St Mary’s School, Harish said the relief centre needed more buckets. “People have not been able to bathe for five days,” he added. “People need hot water, and toilets.”
In front of the school stood two rows of mobile toilets. Harish managed to procure a bucket for Minati Soren, who has been camping at the school with her family and neighbours from Kandanukoli village since Friday.
Soren, who is from Assam but has been working in a coffee estate here for six years, said she was satisfied with arrangements at the centre. “We have every convenience here,” she said. “We are getting food and water and whatever we need.”
But Harish said the volunteers had to sort through stacks of material to find what could be used. For instance, people had donated clothes that were too old or damaged to be used, he said.
At the Kodava Samaj in Cherambane, 70 km from Suntikoppa, volunteers cooked large quantities of rice and vegetables to send to a nearby junior college that has been turned into a shelter for the flood affected. They said leftover perishables would be distributed to residents of nearby areas who have not been displaced. Extra pillows, bedsheets, blankets and other material would be packed so that the families at the shelter could take them home when they left.
Volunteers in Kodagu say they are grateful for the quick and generous response from contributors but rue that there is a disconnect between what is needed and what is coming in. They say this is because relief efforts are largely uncoordinated and driven by the general public while the district administration has been slow to coordinate these efforts.
On Monday, the district collectorate put out a list of required items:
However, Kuttetira Kumari Kunjappa, coordinating relief efforts at the Kodava Samaj in Cherambane, said, “We don’t need any more material.” Kunjappa added, “We need finance because we have to help rebuild houses here.”
In some villages hit by landslides, there is no sign of the homes that once stood there. In others, the homes remain but are extensively damaged or cannot be approached as caved in fields and roads stand in the way.
Cash contributions are also needed to keep essential services running in Kodagu. For instance, private ambulance services have struggled to run in the past week, first because of a fuel shortage caused by roads being blocked and then because of a lack of funds.
“When the landslide disaster happened, the district health officer asked us to help out saying we could give the health department the bills and get reimbursed,” said Kenneth Marsh, who runs a private ambulance service called Livia. Marsh said he and his friend Sharif, who drives an ambulance for the Al Ameen Charitable Trust, rescued residents and ferried patients around Kodagu for two days by dipping into their own resources. But they soon ran out of money and then out of fuel. On Tuesday, Marsh and Sharif were bailed out by volunteers from Bengaluru who had driven to Kodagu to visit their families. The two said the volunteers settled their fuel bills at a petrol pump in Madikeri town.
While stressing on the need for financial assistance, volunteers at the Kodava Samaj, however, said contributors should donate money only after verifying who is collecting it. They have reason to be wary. On Monday, the police arrested a man for allegedly setting up a fake account in the name of the Kodava Samaj and collecting Rs 60,000 towards relief efforts.