Wednesday, 28 May 2003  
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Streamlining the relief operation

More than one week into the worst floods to devastate parts of Sri Lanka the question remains to be answered unambiguously whether the worst-hit victims are being adequately fended and cared for. A connected poser is whether efficient systems are in place to deliver relief at locations where they are most needed in the flood-affected areas.

What prompts questions of this kind are continuing, first-hand reports of lingering bottlenecks and lapses in efforts to deliver flood relief to the needy.

To begin with, the question could be posed whether efforts are underway to introduce a degree of much-needed coordination into the relief effort, given the multiplicity of organisations and agencies purportedly engaged in bringing succour to the flood victims.

As we warned earlier, much streamlining is required in operations of this kind, to guard against overlapping of functions among relief organisations, misuse and waste of resources and corruption.

It is gladdening to note the spontaneous spirit of giving among the citizenry in those parts of the country not affected by the floods, but is the relief on offer being judiciously used or distributed? Are the most vital needs of the affected populace being met? How many persons are being fended for and how many remain to be assisted? Is the relief effort reaching the worst-devastated areas?

We suggest that these questions be adequately addressed and the relief operation be put on a systematic footing. Perhaps, a multidisciplinary, broad-based, umbrella relief body should be formed, with State organisations playing a significant role in it, for the achievement of these aims. What needs to be avoided most are unsystematic, haphazard, wasteful operations from various quarters, which would be more at variance rather than in concordance with each other.

It is also important that the needs of the flood-affected are clearly prioritized by the organisation at the centre of the relief operation.

Reports are rife of some varieties of relief going waste or being allowed to rot. The allegation is also made that material assistance is being poured into only some hands. The possibility of corrupt practices proliferating in these circumstances also cannot be ruled out.

All this and more considerations point to the need for a closely coordinated, tightly organised and sharply monitored relief operation.

It wouldn't also be sufficient to cater to only the material needs of the displaced and destitute. These persons are certain to be suffering considerable emotional stress. Their spiritual needs are also likely to be acute. We are witness to the manner in which the cataclysmic earthquake in Algeria has robbed the affected Algerians of their resourcefulness and optimism. Such psychological and spiritual problems are likely to affect the flood-affected in our midst too.

Accordingly, a multidisciplinary approach is called for to handle the wide-ranging fallout from the floods. This is an occasion for important inputs from our academic and professional communities resident here and abroad.

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