UNICEF drove in two trucks carrying 15 water storage tanks into the tsunami wrecked district of Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu on 31 December 2004.
The UNICEF team then mobilised the district administration and the municipal workers to install the tanks into relief camps. Piling up of garbage close to water sources like rivers and wells was creating a water scarcity problem that was driving hundreds to women and children huddling in the relief camps to desperation. Lack of vessels to collect the water only compounded the situation.
In the days after the disaster, lack of water for personal hygiene emerged as one of the most critical health hazards. The problem got worse when it was impossible for people to get water even to clean up after defecation, exposing small children to diarrhoea and fever. The first signs of an epidemic were already beginning to appear.
UNICEF Swinging into action
UNICEF staff members helped quicken the process of getting the tanks installed into the camps. Geetanjali Master, Communications Officer coordinating relief efforts in the district says “We linked up with the District Administration which then got into action and galvanised the municipal workers to fit the plastic pipes on the tanks and transport them to the camps.”
Six camps short-listed by the Commissioner’s office as the worst affected, were rejuvenated with the lifeline-black 250 litre water storage tanks that travelled 342 kilometers along the coastline from the Capital of Chennai .
A water tanker with a capacity of 500 litres was pressed into service after UNICEF staff met with the Nagapattinam Municipal Commissioner, N. Chakrapani’s. Quick to respond, he said, “we have a tanker standing outside, filled with water but the few tanks we've installed are all filled. So if you have more storage tanks, we can start filling them up.”
When the first big syntax tank arrived - where the UNICEF team had identified the first diarrhea case in Ajay, three year old son of Thamaraselvi - the crowds went mad. Women, children and men rushed to the tank even as the municipal workers pulled up a thick green hosepipe to fill up the tanks. Even though dusk is settling in on the relief camp on a chilly December evening, women and children were getting ready for their first bath in almost six days after the sea changed their lives forever.
The UNICEF water and sanitation team stationed in the district of Nagapattinam have partnered with the local Rotary club to cover all affected who are now spread over a larger geographical area much beyond the district of Nagapattinam.
Paul Deverill, the Water and Sanitation officer says “water is life, so the water tanks are crucial and reaching them to the relief camps even outside the town areas will be our main priority. This partnership basically helps us leverage resources and reach communities faster.”
Sustaining the intervention will be the third phase of focus for UNICEF. For that they are working closely with NGO partners to identify nodal persons in the camps to monitor the supplies and alert the municipal authorities in time.