Sunday, November 29, 2009

Waste Water, Want Water

The ancient saying goes: Waste Not, Want Not, which means, if you do not waste things, you will not be in a position of want some day. I have seen the water is wasted in West Bengal. Look at any municipality or town that has supply of drinking water. Over two-third of the water goes waste as the pipes do not have have any auto close tap attached with them, and so the water continues to flow on the streets, on the roads, and ultimately into the drains. Now, consider the case of West Bengal slowly becoming lesser and lesser sufficient on safe drinking water. In the post-cyclone Aila scenario, in the context of arsenic contamination across the state, in the case of lesser rainfall in some western and central districts of West Bengal-- a grim situation is knocking at the door. (Inset: an internet picture). People have not learned it the hard way. The amount of water that is being wasted even in Seva Kendra, here in Kolkata, is terrible. I have given them the idea of placing auto-close taps instead of the open taps that need human intervention for closing and opening. The idea has been taken for consideration, and soon all the common taps might get changed. The auto-close ones have just a spring inside, that would close the moment a person releases the lever. May be this is only a first step in the long journey of saving water. Everyone must contribute to reach the seventh millennium goal: environmental sustainability.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Strengthening Disaster Risk Reduction Programs

On 25-27 Nov 2009, Caritas India was conducting a workshop on preparing an Emergency Response Team at the Zonal level covering the States of Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. I was asked to take a session on Needs Assessment on 25th and on Networking and Coordination on 26th. Since the invitation suddenly came on 25th from the national Emergency Officer of Caritas India, I could not refuse it. I quickly worked on the material available with me, and gave the presentations and took questions from participants. On 28th, there was a review meeting of the Community Based Disaster Preparedness project supported by Caritas India, with Mr. Peter Siedel of Caritas Germany, Mr. Karl Ammann, consultant to Caritas India, and Mr. Sunil Mammen, Emergency Officer, Caritas India present at the meeting.

In discussions that followed, besides various other things relating to the program, two new things came in strongly, though there were many other things that are of equal or more importance. But because these are in someway new, they drew my attention a lot more.

Firstly, disaster preparedness programs must also have a "MessageTransfer Tracking System". This is important specially in times of disaster to check on information flow (e.g. early warning) and to study how and if communication reached the community at all.

Secondly, it is essential to segregate core components of disaster preparedness from secondary components of development and mitigation within the disaster preparedness / Disaster risk reduction programs, in order to understand the impact of the preparatory measures and risk reduction measures.


On 19 Nov I took a travel to the Darjeeling district of Bengal. Since I had no confirmed ticket on an air conditioned coach, I had to travel on a sleeper coach. With loose windows cold breeze was flowing in freely, and by the morning on 20th I reached, I was already affected by severe fever, and increased cold and cough. At the same time, a political group in the Darjeeling hills had called for an wildcat strike on the 20th. And so I came down by bus to Raiganj in the afternoon from Siliguri. By then the fever and cold had turned worse. I was flat in bed for couple of days, and returned to Kolkata on 23 Nov. However, since then, I feel pretty weak and sleepy. May be with the drugs that I am taking, it is making me feel drowsy.

On 27 Nov, I had to travel to Krishnagar, 110 kilometers north of Kolkata. The journey should have been just good, as the buses that leave early in the morning are normally free, and I should have reached there in two and a half hours. But it was not so, as on 28th is the Muslim festival of Id. People were returning to their homes. So, even my attempt to catch the morning bus at 5.00 a.m failed! In the process, by the time I reached the railway station, I missed the early morning train as well. And by the time I took the next train that left Kolkata at 6.50, and reached Krishnagar at 10.00 a.m, I had already spent time standing for over 5 hours! My legs and and back are aching with the push and pull of the co-passengers, and the strain of keeping your feet firmly on the ground in a train that was truly flooded with people. Jai Ho, Indian railways!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Infant & Maternal Mortality High in Maoist Hit Parts of West Bengal

(This is a news report from a friend of mine who works for Press Trust of India. Opinions and data expressed are his.)
Bandwan (WB), Nov 26 (PTI) The sound of conch shells during a baby's first rice ceremony held at Supadih village indicate celebrations in the hilly, predominantly tribal, poorest West Bengal district of Purilia that is blighted by Maoist insurgency. "Newborn deaths is common here and many women die during childbirth in this district that has poor roads, bad transport and prone to wild elephant and snake attack," says Gharani Bala Mahato, a housewife who lives in the village that borders Jharkhand.
The high rate of newborn and maternal mortality in districts like Purulia and Bankura, backs Unicef's latest report on child mortality in India. The report released this past week states 5,000 children under the age of five die in India everyday due to preventable causes. "Sixty out of 1000 newborns die in Purulia district every year due to malnourishment, underweight and lack of cleanliness in case of home deliveries. Several babies also die of pneumonia before attaining one month age," Dr Abinash Besra, Health Officer of Bandwan
BPHC told PTI.
"A total of 120 women died while giving birth to babies in the district. The main cause of death is eclampsia which involves a rise in pregnant woman's blood pressure, swelling in the feet
and convulsions before, during or soon after child birth. Mostly underage pregnant woman suffer from it due to high rate of child marriage," he says. The newborn and maternal mortality rate is the highest in Purulia district, health officials say.
Poverty being high, babies are born underdeveloped and pregnant women suffer from anaemia too. "Early marriage and inadequate health care of women which adversely affects the survival of the children," says Dr. Besra. Another cause of newborn and maternal deaths are superstitions among villagers and tribals - particularly in Jhalda, Baghmundi and Bandwan blocks. "Mothers are provided with dry food like puffed rice, garlic and other less nutritious food with the misconception that else the mother will not recover fast.
This causes malnourishment in infants posing a risk to their lives," says Dr Besra who is also a local of the village. "Infants are bathed in pond water on the ninth day which causes infection on the belly. Tribals prick the arms, forehead, legs and belly using a the red-hot tip of a sickle. These practises causes infection and many newborns die of tetanus," he says.
Housewives like Gharani Bala Mahato and Kajali Kisku of the jungle village say mothers are compelled to duck into pond water on the seventh day after childbirth which doctors say may cause vaginal infections. The narrow rocky undulating paths through jungles, makes it difficult for pregnant women in labour to reach the hospital here.
The number of hospitals and health centres are also very low in the region. Gharani Bala says very few people are willing to venture out at nights during winter fearing wild elephants. A lack of motorised cars and ambulances are other impediment to take a pregnant woman to hospital, she says. District administration and Unicef-supported local NGOs have formed Self-Help Groups in the villages to break the superstitions, keep an eye on the pregnant women and trained to maintain a chart of ante-natal check-ups and vaccinations from nursing staff visiting the villages.
Block Development Officer of Bandwan, Prasenjit Das said the groups were provided van-rickshaws to carry pregnant women to hospital and one more ambulance was bought this year. "Rooms were cleared in godowns meant to keep forest products to make space for labour rooms with kits for safe delivery. Village midwives were imparted rudimentary medical training to deliver babies and awareness campaigns were launched," says Das.
Dr Besra said 30 per cent of the children have been born without the assistance of a trained health specialist. Only two hospitals in the district with nearly 25.5 lakh population have caesarean sections and ante-natal check-ups are mostly neglected, doctors say. "The hospitals are being equipped with better instruments, more beds are being added in all the hospitals in
the district. To promote hospital delivery, each baby is provided with hypothermic kits to maintain cleanliness and Rupees 500 for the mother's well nourishment," he says. (For Press Trust of India, Amitava Das)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fakes live longer...

Take the case of fakes. They last longer than their lifetime. Look at the number of "serious mails" that seem to offer you hundreds of millions of dollars. They have not stopped since I know internet. I know several men in parts of Bengal who used to go around with a photocopied one million dollar note asking people if they could help them with changing the original, as they said, the original was with one of their friends or close relative. Once I had a chance of seeing one of those. I had to get to business. Not for calling up the police or money changer. But to the internet, to check if it was true. Well, it was! Only that it is a memorial note, and had hardly any value. And you could buy it on the internet the same thing starting from 300 rupees to 2000 rupees! Last year someone started circulating a mail saying that Microsoft and AOL are paying them in thousands of dollars for passing on the message. Why should Bill Gates part with his fortune? To check if you are running a original version of Microsoft OS or not! Heavens! It would cost him less to open source the code than to pay these rogues, check if their OS was genuine, pay for every forwarded mail 245 US dollars, as the mail claimed. I wrote back to people who were forwarding this asking them to stop this nonsense.

Since last week another mail is circulating, which I had actually seen three years ago. The mail has graphic pictures of slaughtering of "dolphins" in the sea shores of Denmark, and says that Denmark is to be blamed for this, and everyone must protest, and asks all to sign the protest letter. The problem is : a) Those are not dolphins, but long finned pilot whales (b) The event takes place in Faroe islands, and not in Denmark. Faroe islands do not depend on Denmark for internal administration; they are not even part of European Union, although it depends on Denmark for foreign affairs and defence. (c) If people have not done anything in three years time, with all the animal rights activists around, I don't think much will happen with the signature campaign (d) It is not a festival as the picture claims, but an event attended by the local islanders as they try to catch them, kill them all for eating! (Hei, that's what every fishing is all about!) When the islanders see the whales all coming together they use motorized boats to slowly move them to shallow waters and then catch them and cut them.

Finally, you know what the islanders tell about us? They say, they are creating awareness to the world about what is happening every day across the seas all over the world....! They say, people of "the modern world have become so far removed from the harsh realities of animal food production that they have formulated unrealistic notions of how food actually gets to their tables". In other words, people think that animal and fish products come to their tables, as if plucked from an apple tree!

Personal opinion:
All forms of wanton violence is bad.

Monday, November 23, 2009

House of the Dead

I must make a confession today. The confession of being a great lover of Dostoevsky's novels. I used to buy good many of them. And indeed, several of them have been just lost, as it happens when you give them to your trusted friends for reading. They never come back. One of the most beautiful novels that hardly gets quoted is "The House of the Dead", in which the hero Alexander Petrovich is condemned to life of imprisonment in Siberia. (Even in seminaries they quote his most famous books: Brothers Karamazov and Crime & Punishment). In the House of the Dead, the gentleman Petrovich sees the sufferings of the people, both sublime and hardcore criminals in their best and the worst, their energy and lethargy, in the confines of Siberia, where he is destined to suffer along with them. And in one of those scenes he makes a point about the hardness of life in prison. He says, life in prison is hard for three reasons: firstly, Hard labour (Hard labour means, not physically making you sick; peasants in the field do more work than a prisoner. But it is hard because, you work, and you will not have the fruit of it. It is a fruitless labour) . The second reason is, Loss of Freedom. (This is easily understood, as it involves a total of loss of control of yourself, and letting someone else control your time, your food, your entertainment etc.) And thirdly, he says, life in prison is hard because of Enforced Communal Living. (One cannot make a choice with whom he or she will live with. One cannot choose to avoid. You are just condemned.)

Life seems to be going in that direction for many. One big Siberia for all. One big world, and yet little place to escape.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to Win Votes and Make the Government Last

The Left Front Government run by the Communist Party of India - Marxist and their affiliates has been looking shaky these days. And the opposition is laughing its way to the vote bank. Some of my friends in various political parties have been asking me to help them with some ideas on how to get some extra edge by getting some pockets of unidentified votes. So, here are some ideas to all of them. If you do it, you get some extra votes...and that can make a lot of difference between a win and a loss.

1. Announce that all the houses partially damaged in landslides on the Darjeeling hills will be considered as fully damaged, and compensation will be given accordingly. (Since no one can live in a partially damaged house, or a "hanging" house after a landslide, this demand is over due. It can bring in about 100,000 votes, and a lot of good will among the people living in the hills.

2. Remove the tax on audio system in cars in West Bengal. The tax is about 60 dollars per year! This is also sign of government's bankruptcy, and has alienated about a 500,000 car or bus owners. Remove this, at least 1/5 of this group will vote for you.

3. Hardly any christian school has been recognised in the last 20 years. Give recognition to at least one more school run by the Christians in each district of West Bengal. That comes to 18 schools in districts, and one in Kolkata. But this can bring in minimum of 200,000 votes from the christian groups, specially from the organized catholic community. Ultimately this serves to fulfill the government's commitment for education.

4. Make sure that every week the people working under National Rural Employment Guarantee act are paid for the preceding week. This needs just a little bit of organizational commitment. That is all. I am sure, this could turn in around 500,000 votes.

5. Ask the District Magistrate and all chief officials of the various line departments sit each week in one of the blocks on a particular day (E.g. Every Tuesday-- in the first week in Block 1, in second week in Block 2 and so on), and call for grievances from the public, sort out the pending files. (This would be an improvement on what some of the south Indian states are doing already.) I can guarantee, ultimately you will have a lot more people satisfied. Every satisfied person will be turning out to vote for you.

Is the government listening? More ideas can be given to people who want to listen! (After all, as my elder brother says, the only thing that is freely available in India are ideas! You ask anyone, they come out with ideas!!!)

Birthday Pangs!

I wanted to take off from the normal routine of life on 16 Nov 2009. Yeah, it is my birthday. I just went out of Seva Kendra where I stay these days (that I may not have much work), and caught up on some pending works on the internet, took plenty of rest in a friend's home, and had some home-made mutton curry for the night. No partying, no big bang high class dinners. Had a cake cut, and it was all simple relaxation. Lots of friends called up to wish. Oversees friends wished me in E-mails and on Facebook. It also made me feel, how tired I am. I am still truly tired.

My body is aching for some more rest. I cannot afford it at this moment. More works are pending. It is once again fast track. As one of my friends calls me, I am an "Opel Astra without gear!"

The BIG trainings!

Two advanced level trainings for 52 senior staff of 47 non-profit organizations was organized at Hotel Peerless Inn, Kolkata in two batches. The trainings were on Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction measures, and how to improve upon the present risk reduction programs in vogue. The first batch of 24 participants had the training from 9-11 Nov 2009, and the second batch of 28 of them had the training from 13-15 Nov 2009. The training was facilitated by RedR India and organized by the State Inter Agency Group - West Bengal. As the State Coordinator of the State Inter Agency Group, I had had tremendous task of organizing the trainings--starting from arranging the logistics, travels, training materials and tools, and the smooth going of the training itself. It ate up 10 best days of my life! But, it was a great experience. And the trainees were extremely pleased with the comfort of the Peerless Inn and the food that was delicious. For my side, well, I enjoyed the fruits in the mornings and evenings, in the Oceanic, the hall in which buffet meals are served. The team of District Coordinators of the Community Based Disaster Preparedness program supported by Caritas India and Catholic Relief Services were extremely happy for the opportunity that I could make for them, both in terms of the quality of training and in terms of their stay that was more than comfortable!

At the end of the 15th day of the month, one man was fully drained out, and yet, fully satisfied... It is me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Images and Sounds

I have spoken number of times with Mr. Praveen Pawar of RedR India (Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief) over the phone. The simplicity and the softness of his voice always showed that he may be a very young man and physically thin and straight... Or at least that is the size of consultants of RedR India I have come to know since cyclone Aila, and even before. On 8 November 2009, Praveen was coming for the first time to facilitate a training on Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction for field practioners of various non-profit organizations working with the State Inter Agency Group. I was waiting for a thin man coming from the airport, and I was supposed to take him to UNICEF, and then drop him at the hotel. But I was amazed by a huge man (for Indian standards), although young (in his late thirties).

I didn't expect that. Did I work on my own preconceived images? Where did I get this presumption from? Am I prejudiced by the "sound" of his voice? How often, harmless prejudices creep in, and can lead to harmful prejudices that can destroy relationships, persons and communities. Images can be imagery. Sounds may not actually tell a thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Making Sense or Non-Sense

On Wednesday, 4 November 2009, while walking under the Grand arcade, (as the stretch on the Grand Hotel side of the Esplanade area is called), I was specifically paying attention to vendors selling T-shirts with innovative or funny sentences inscribed on them. But nothing can beat what I saw on one of the shops that must be wasting its money on the rent more than earning--a shop that sells shoes. Well, there are many there, selling one brand or the other, and at a stretch, with a premium tag added to them; which means, you pay more for the same thing.

The Bata shop that is the largest shoe maker and seller in India has a shop there, with several types of shoes, with "names" attached to them. One them proudly said on a white board, written in black, "Hush Puppies". You mean "Hush puppies?" What sense does it make? [My friend Andrea would be amused to read such things.] After all the shoes are not meant for some puppies. They were for grown up adult men! (Or may be, these men are treated as puppies at home?) Huh! But why hush about it? Making little noise? Or, may be, little or no sense. After all, if you can sell your wares, you don't have to make sense.

I remember how the self help groups name their products. One of them selling pure turmeric powder read: "Maa Mangalmayee Self Help Group produced pure Turmeric" Who would ever read that, or ever mean that? They should go to the Batas to come out with names. What about 'Docomo' turmeric? The new name in Indian cell phone market? I never got the sense out of it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Training on Disaster Risk Reduction

The State Inter Agency Group – West Bengal (IAG-WB) in association with RedR India has completed six residential trainings programs successfully (3 in North Bengal and 3 in South Bengal) on Emergency Needs Assessment between September-October 2009. That took quite a lot of my time, as I had to work on the Scope of Work to logistics, training schedules, venues, participants and finances.

The State IAG-WB is committed to strengthening of systems and structures that promote the advanced knowledge and understanding of community based disaster risk reduction measures across the state partners and make it more child focused and promoting traditional learning and coping mechanisms. In this we are also receiving technical and financial handholding from Disaster Management Department, Government of West Bengal, UN agencies and International - National NGO partners.

Now, it is time for next round of trainings! This time we shall focus on the capacity building of the members of the State Inter Agency Group-West Bengal (State IAG-WB) by refreshing their concepts, advanced knowledge and understanding on community based disaster risk reduction. The training will also attempt to bring commonality among various models and modules adapted in the CBDRR / CBDRMP programs undertaken by the partners including GoWB. It will help us to improve our resource pool with advanced learning and understanding in CBDRR, the trainees can be an asset to the organizations and to the State-IAG-WB

The first batch of training will start on 09 Nov 2009 9.00 hours and will go on till 11 Nov 2009 16.00 hours; the second batch of training will be from 13 Nov 2009 9.00 hours till 15 Nov 2009 16.00 hours. Both the trainings will take place at Hotel Peerless Inn, Kolkata, with residential facility. So. that will keep me busy for the next five to six days.... just on my toes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Copy Right or Right to Copy?

In India copyright is respected for the "right to copy". You show anything. And Indians can copy it, and deliver it cheap. Machines, machine guns, computers, dumpers, rockets, sockets, medicines or kerosene.... Say anything. And they have it copied. Walk the streets along Esplanade or College Street in Kolkata. Every book that you can buy for US $ 20 can be purchased for 200 rupees (less than 5 dollars). The Indians have been fighting for reducing the protection period allotted for intellectual property rights and copy rights. Today, two US visitors to Kolkata were saying about abominably high medical costs in India, saying that people can run into bankruptcy due to medical bills. The lady in the team was speaking of a medium cost pacemaker that cost one of her relatives 122,000 US dollars, excluding other expenses! This sort of abnormality must be removed. If people cannot get medical services at affordable price, whichever generation you are in, and whichever economy you are in, you are walking to your grave. No wonder the Indians are upset with "nonreplicable" forms of seeds, medicines and instruments. Longlive copycats!

Body telling

The last four weeks went in a crash. I had no proper rest, no good sleep, and no time to relax. But the Monday and Tuesday (2 -3 Nov) came as a relief. Not that I did not work. But I could work a little more relaxed. I had enough time to catch up with the accounts, with some databases and other things. Oh yes, I must also wash my clothes, which I have not been able to do. (Any helpers?? Ha...ha...ha...) The students from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) are in Darjeeling for a visit to study on the landslides. The students from U.S. will be arriving in January 2010. Vera Schmidt is better settled. So, that gives me little more time to work on other pending issues, which I am able to take up now. Soon, more trainings will come in and I should be busy by the end of this week, keeping me on toes once again. And the body that has been aching for some relief got to see the bed a longer than usual. (What is usual? 4 hours in the last month. And now, I could take rest for about 7 hours.) After all, one can never cheat one's body. It tells.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Leave the dead to bury the dead

One of the Indian news dailies, the Telegraph, in its Kolkata edition has come out with a news item on the catholic church permitting "simple burial" to those who have committed suicide, but "not of scandalous nature".

"Till now, the bodies of those who committed suicide were only allowed up to the main gate of a church for prayers before being taken to the cemetery, where they would be buried in an obscure corner without any religious rite. No priest would accompany the mourners. Now the Church has decided to give those who die by suicide a “simple burial”. It means their bodies can be brought inside church premises and a priest can bless the grave, though there would be no homily or holy mass." - said the newspaper. I am not sure what would Jesus do if he were the priest! By the way, will someone explain to me what is a scandalous suicide? The obscurity remains. Quoting church sources the newspaper says that the change in Church's stand is in response to allegations of insensitivity in cases involving people who commit suicide out of agony

I believe, the stand of the catholic church in this case is preposterous. However, after all, we must leave the dead to bury the dead, and move on!

Where Grace Abounds

The last week had been extremely strenuous with so much of hectic action going on. In spite of it, I had to work harder to ensure that the training of the Sisters of Providence in basic knowledge on Social Work goes well, as I had agreed for the dates much earlier. On 31 Oct morning at 5.00 a.m. I left by car on road to Barrackpore for the morning training sessions, and returned at 1.00 p.m., and then after the launching of the website of the State Inter Agency Group - West Bengal, left for Barrackpore again, only to return at night 10.00 p.m. Then, on 1 Nov 2009, left at 5.30 a.m., and continued the sessions till 4.30 p.m. in the evening, and returned to Kolkata. The training centred around : Community Mobilization techniques, and on accessing government schemes. I thank Sr. Lizy, the provincial and Sr. Gracy, her secretary for arranging the travel, stay and other logistics comfortable. I wish all the best to the 19 sisters who participated in the training program.

Launching the Website

The launch of the website of the State Inter Agency Group - West Bengal (IAG-WB) was held on 31 October 2009, at 17.00 hours at Hotel Peerless Inn, in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. The State Coordinator of the State IAG-WB, Puthumai A. Nazarene welcomed all the distinguished guests and placed before them the successes and challenges of the State IAG-WB. Speaking on the occasion Mr. S.N.Dave, Senior Program Manager,UNICEF; Mr. Nikhilesh Das, Chairman, Indian Red Cross Society - West Bengal, and Mr. Debabrata Pal, Joint Secretary, Disaster Management Department, Government of West Bengal congratulated the State IAG-WB for all the activities, and assured it of their success. The meeting ended with vote of thanks from Fr. Reginald, the Convener of State IAG-WB, and few words from professor Chandan Majumdar of Jadavpur Univerisity.

Since the Minister in Charge of Disaster Management Department could not make it to the occasion due to a delayed flight from Chennai, the honorable Joint Secretary launched the website: All the readers of this blog may visit the site to know of the happenings relating to diaster preparedness and response in the state of West Bengal, India.