Nagarcoil (Kanyakumari): The Kanyakumari district administration and UNICEF on Wednesday decided to install sanitary toilets in 19 of the relief camps where around 16,000 thousand of the displaced people are currently living. The UNICEF team that has been in Kanyakumari since the tsunami strike visited the camps with senior government officials. Around 80 masons are expected to start work on construction of sanitary toilets in the larger camps which are more overcrowded than others. These camps have a sizeable proportion of the displaced people, estimated to be around 26,000 in all.
26,000 people in 33 villages (affected by tsunami) is not a very large number. However, 26,000 people in 40 relief camps means there is a problem at hand. Even the largest of camps that have 4000 - 5000 people living on the premises, for instance, have open spaces and sizeable areas but were never built for so many people. Father S.C. Clatton, sitting calmly in his small room amid the coming in and going out of five to 10 persons per minute, says his church compound has four thousand people and five toilets. "We can try our best to provide them with food and whatever shelter that is possible in these few rooms, but we have hardly any toilets." The five toilets of the adjoining school have been opened for the people, but this is clearly not enough.
In other camps that are being run by local churches and voluntary organisations, there isn't much of a change in situation. "In most cases, people from affected villages have taken shelter at the nearest camp," says Reverend Bright Vincent Raj, parish priest at Zionpuram.
With most people unwilling to go back to their villages, it appears that the relief camps will be there for a couple of weeks or more. "People are going back to their villages, but only to take a look at their houses or to find someone who is still missing," says Father Clatton. Moreover, villages that had neat, concrete houses are reduced to heaps of rubble. Bulldozers are still at work, continuously looking for bodies still trapped under the debris. Fishermen and their families are unwilling to go and live in their villages till they are certain that the sea will not repeat its ghastly act. The camps, it seems, will run for at least two weeks or so, feels Balaji, an organiser at the Zionpuram camp.
Although infections have not been reported so far, doctors and camp organisers are already discussing measures such as giving doses of preventable diseases to people, particularly children. Doctors have expressed their fear of epidemics breaking out essentially due to overcrowding and lack of sanitation facilities. The need for toilets came from the people themselves. "We have to wait for a long time before we get to use the toilet...it is particularly tough for women," said Parvati, living in a camp in the city centre at Nagarcoil. Urban camp sites do not have enough area for people to go outwards and defecate in the open, says Father Angelo at Nagarcoil camp. "Open defecation may have grave implications on the health of people, particularly children," says Dr. Sunil. The thought is echoed by many organisers in various relief camps.
"The need of sanitary toilets is commonly felt, and that is perhaps the reason why the government as well as camp organisers have readily agreed to have temporary toilets installed," says Dipak Roy, a water and sanitation professional and member of the UNICEF Kanyakumari team. Digging of pits for installation of toilets has already started in some of the camps while UNICEF and the district administration are making efforts to contact other camps that are being run in the district.
In addition, 50,000 kilos of bleaching powder has been requisitioned from the state capital, Chennai, which will be provided to the district administration for further distribution. UNICEF is also assessing the medium-term shelter needs of thousands of people who will have only broken houses once they decide to return.
On Thursday 30 December, around 60 toilets were installed in some of the relief camps that are being run by churches and voluntary organisations. UNICEF led the process in assessing the lack of sanitation facilities in the camps in the Kanyakuari district – one of thre worst-affected in Tamil Nadu – and started a discussion with camp organsers and the Government. UNICEF has met with the Collector and senior district officials, various camp organisers and the Vicar General who is the senior-most church authority in the area to get the relief camp organisers to construct temporary and modern toilets at the camp premises. The proposal has been accepted by both district and church authorities and is being implemented as an immediate need even as UNICEF is responding to the emergency in other ways.