Demonstration of crossing by ropeway at Raiganj
West Bengal, 10 October 2008: Leading from the office of Social Welfare Institute (SWI) an NGO in Raiganj, Uttar Dinajpur in the state of West Bengal, we reach a junction where two paths meet, one marked by banners of UNICEF and the other with CARITAS (International NGO) banners fluttering. Already exposed to UNICEF’s work in the Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) programme, we take the other path and walk into a full scale mock drill.
Ropes knotted at regular intervals hang from a tall, sturdy tree and as we draw near, a young girl clambers up the small rope to the safety of a low hanging branch. The thicker, longer rope is not fixed to the tree but is slung over a high branch, held by two strong young men. The anchor men show us that a metal holder buried into the ground can also be an anchor. "Why then do you need anchor men?" we ask. "During rains the ground is usually too soft to give a firm enough hold to the metal anchor," they explain.
A flurry of activity nearby causes us to notice the ropeway slung between two trees. Demonstrations of crossing the ropeway and even carrying a "patient" across capture our attention for a while before we are drawn to the open pond a short way off. Here the team demonstrate the rescue of drowning persons by specially trained swimmers aided by rubber tubes. They also administer mouth to mouth resuscitation.
We see life jackets made of poly-sheets lined with thermocol and stretchers made of two bamboos with thick poly sheets stretched across. Suddenly someone points across the lake where two people are getting into a makeshift boat made of a single aluminium sheet. These boats are easily constructed, lightweight and stable and can help people get to safety during floods, we are told. We are also told that tying two coconut shells together can form an effective float to help save people from drowning. 4-5 empty plastic water bottles tied together can serve the same purpose.
Woman demonstrating rescue
A mock drill is tiring but as we turn towards the main building of the NGO we realize that it is far from over. Young men demonstrate how a disabled person can be taken down from a high building on ropes and a sling; two people rush from nowhere carrying a "patient" to safety on their improvised stretcher. There are more demonstrations of bandaging, using splints and carrying the aged on a "chair" formed by linked arms of two 'saviours' before we enter the main hall for a presentation on the UNICEF and CARITAS programmes being run by Social Welfare Institute in Malda and Uttar Dinajpur respectively.
UNICEF supports the Government of West Bengal in emergency response during floods, providing essential supplies, helping affected communities and ensuring continuity of education. Around the year 2000, the emphasis started to gradually shift from emergency response to community led preparedness and the CBDP programme took birth. The CBDP prototype is now adapted by other international aid organizations in different districts of West Bengal and the CARITAS programme is witness to this. The joint mock drill of DIPECHO (Disaster Preparedness Division of European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office), UNICEF and CARITAS was an indication of the forthcoming phases of the project.
CARITAS is a member of the Inter-Agency Group which consists of representatives from international and major national aid organizations who meet periodically, especially during emergency situations. The group ensures coordination amongst various players for equitable distribution of goods and services as is evident in the case of the CBDP programme.
An idea shared is an intervention doubled.