When disaster struck the Tehri-Garhwal region in Uttar Pradesh last year, several voluntary agencies rushed in to offer rehabilitation services. The most popular form of assistance was to "adopt" disaster-struck villages and build fresh shelters for the homeless. A recent report by the Dehra Dun-based People's Science Institute brings to light several instances of how the proffered help was inappropriate and unwanted.
The Tata Relief Committee led the rehousing programme by building 100 houses with steel frames and tin roofs in Ganeshpur. Each structure was partitioned into two one-room houses to shelter two families. But local habitat practices were ignored. The villagers' disappointment is typified by Kameshwar Prasad, who considers the new dwellings useful only for those living in cities. "Where will we keep our animals and our ploughs? Or dry our grain, grind it and store it?" he asks.
The Roorkee-based Adventists' Disaster Relief Association (ADRA) selected Jamak -- the worst-hit village -- and offered to build a new housing enclave. Unfortunately, it selected the most fertile strip of land in the village for the purpose. This created a rift between those who owned plots on the selected land and those who were to benefit from the new construction. ADRA wanted also to use wooden frames without considering the implications for the already degraded surrounding forests.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, too, adopted nine villages and announced it was spending Rs 50,000 on each structure, which consisted only of a frame of steel tubes and a tin roof. The "beneficiaries" were expected to build the walls on their own.
However, no one anticipated that the villagers would find their own uses for the relief material -- they now make trunks from the tin sheets distributed by the government and the NGOs to make storage trunks.
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