Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas for Churki

During my visit to Kushgram (read: Lock and Key), Mariam took to me the family of Churki. When I reached the house I saw a small tiny house with two rooms. The house had been built by the catholic mission in the area. An old lady who could not stand up was sitting at one of the doors. Mariam called for a little girl of about 10 years, and told her to call her mother. And soon I was joined by the three females: Churki (about 30 years old), her daughter (10 yrs) and Churki’s mother (55 – 60 yrs). Churki’s family had become Christians, and Churki got the name of Nirola at her baptism. But, as it happened in the village, many had left Christian faith, and few had joined the protestant churches, as they felt that the catholic mission was not caring for them. Churki’s family had been given a house by the catholic mission with little two rooms, but certainly had no livelihood options. And so they lived and live in utter poverty with no food on most of the days, or survive on a single meal. This had lead to the aging of Churki’s mother who is now finding it difficult to walk even few meters. Churki works as a daily laborer whenever there is work in the area. She cannot leave her home to work elsewhere where she can have regular work. Churki’s daughter was studying in the Mustafanagar catholic mission’s boarding school. But because they could not pay a monthly fee of 300 rupees (about 6 dollars a month), she had been thrown out…. Or, dropped under pressure!??? The little girl goes now to the local government school irregularly, as she is not guided or cared for. The family was crying if I can do something for them. I saw that the pressure of the old lady is lying heavily on the family that neither Churky nor her daughter can think of a better future.

I spoke to the family in detail. The needs are clear : the old lady needs a short time care for her to recuperate, and place her in a old persons’ care center, Churki needs continuous job so that she can pay for her daughter’s studies, pay part of her income for the mother’s care and keep a small amount for her own and her daughter’s future needs. I could find a job for her as I called up a friend in Kolkata. But, the old lady needs immediately some short time care so that she can be appropriately sent to another place to care for herself, and spend rest of her life in peace and happiness.

I spoke to the parish priest of Mustafanagar. He knew about the issues, but did not seem to sympathize with the family much. I called up Sr. Magda, a missionaries of charity nun, who is the superior of the tuberculosis care center at Mirwal, near Raiganj. She had problems, as the government has put lots of pressure on the missionaries relating to running of care centers, asking them to report with lots of information on daily basis, telling them clearly that they cannot keep anyone other than tuberculosis patients, etc. She is a good woman, god-fearing and sincere. I also understand that she is not in a position to help in this situation. So, I walked to the brothers of Missionaries of Charity at Mustafanagar. The superior there was not very warm to listen to the story, as he listened partly and he said that he is too busy and can’t do much about this. As I taste a piece of cake, celebrating Christmas, at the convent of the Sisters of Divine Savior in Mustafanagar, my heart is broken. This Christmas is not going to mean anything good for Churki’s family. One issue: poverty, killing three birds in this little obscure village. The family is crying out, “Help!!!”

Lock and Key

I visited Kushgram Village in Baruna panchayat (local government area with cluster of villages) under Kaliyaganj block in Uttar Dinajpur district on 21 Dec, after 18 years of my last visit. The place has changed a lot. Entire stretch from Hat Kaliyaganj village had been upgraded from mud road to metal road under the PMGSY scheme of the government, and indeed about 2 kilometers of road in and just ahead of Kushgram had been already so badly damaged that it was practically non-motorable. Lots of houses had come up along the nearly 10 kilometer long road that there was hardly any empty space but for a few paddy fields.

Not many people, all of them tribals from the village remembered me. I could not recall anyone’s name, except I remembered a family where there was a blind girl of about 5 years old who would get excited just at hearing my voice. I used to walk the muddy streets during my three or four visits to that village at that time. So, I told the people about the girl. One of the elders in the village said that she died about 8 – 9 years ago due to malnutrition and lack of care. Her father also died about 5 years ago. The gentleman reached me to their home. I sat on a bench outside. One of her sisters, Mariam greeted me. She could recognize me although she was too young at that time. She spoke about the family issues, about her father Mr. Jiten’s death, and then took me, just by impulse and by hoping that I would help, to another family of “Churki” (I shall speak about Churki and her family in my next blog.)

 As we were about to just walk across the street to go to Churki’s family, Mariam said, “Let me lock the door and come!” I got a shock! 18 – 20 years ago no family in this area would lock their homes. There was huge trust among the families. No one would steal another’s. If someone required something from another’s family, they would ask for it, or if the other is not present would take it and inform the family, or return it later. But, lock? Never. I watched other doors too. All of them had padlocks. Has with civilization we have become more alert? Or, have we become more alert because there are more thieves around? Has the sense of insecurity increased along with any sign of prosperity that is visible? Who has taken away these people’s innocence and honesty? Who is the threat to their property and little wealth they have? Questions continue to bother me, as I left Kushgram.

Kushgram, the name means a village of happiness, has turned out to be not so Happy any more!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best of Polio Rounds

Reports have come in! The polio vaccination round that started on 18 Nov, and extended till 24 Nov is the best of rounds so far in our working areas. More than 22,000 children have been vaccinated through the community mobilization activities of nearly 300 staff involved in the task. Resistance has come down from nearly 600 in last round and over 700 in previous round to 471 this month, and for the first time it is below 500! The children reporting not vaccinated due to reasons of sickness also came down from 757 in last round to 510.  Excellent job has been done through children's groups who were involved in bringing children for vaccination on booth day (the first day of vaccination drive) and high number of conversion of resistant families into accepting polio vaccine through health camps and excellent interpersonal communication skills.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Disaster Management Plans

I had the opportunity to study through at least eight disaster management plans from one of the districts in the last 25 days. I have also had the opportunity of studying more plans in the past year, specially while undertaking a study with colleagues in Unicef and State Inter Agency Group of West Bengal. As I get in deeper into them, I can identify the following positive points that are emerging over the period :

a) There is a lot more appreciation of integration of plans by various departments, although not all relevant departments submit their departmental plans.
b) There is a move to view emerging disaster risks, albeit the fact that these are mostly geophysical or infrastructure related risks. For example, a block has identified train accidents as a risk after a new rail line has come up in the block.
c) Good amount of data / information is being added into the plans in most blocks and districts.

Where do they lack in making a good plan?

a) All these plans are mostly response plans, and not risk reduction plans. Therefore, the plans have a life time of just one year, and need annual revision.
b) Tools are not used to identify and link the broader line of stakeholders into the plan. Therefore vital support services are not mapped into most of the plans. Critical services cannot run effectively without support service systems. For example, if a plan identifies hospitals for managing rail accidents, it has not mapped blood banks, ambulance services, crowd and transport management into the plan itself.
c) Disaster risks with emerging from external elements or elements with long-term impact are not planned for, and they are left as international issues or health hazards etc. For example, a block that has serious problem with floride contamination in water has not brought it into the plan as it is a "health hazard". Similarly, a block that has seen civilians dying in fire between Indian and Bangladeshi border security forces has not mapped any plan for civilian evacuation in such emergencies. Increasing deficiency in drinking water availability in a block has been  left as a drinking water problem, and not seen from the perspective of climate change issues merged with environmental exploitation that will lead to long term impact on the community.

What do we need to do immediately?

a) The disaster management plans must have two sections : one for emergency response and another for identification of long term risks and planning -- say for 30 years or 50 years.
b) Officers and elected representatives involved need to be seriously trained in long term risk reduction planning and risk assessment.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Assessor and Giver

In Kumarganj block of South Dinajpur district, West Bengal, while giving a training on disaster management to the government officials and local elected representatives of the block, during the discussion on relief management, an interesting issue came up. The issue raised was how to ensure damage and needs assessments are realistic and point towards immediate steps that need to be taken for relief in periods immediately after a disaster, with minimum coloring of political or other sectoral manipulation. The officers in Kumarganj said, "The current system of engaging the same group of people for assessment and response, although they may not be personally the same, but come from the same category, is equal to a examinee correcting his own paper, with no reference to any question or answer at the time of correction! The suggestion is, therefore, segregate the officers doing the assessment from those who give the relief." It can be done in two ways: (a) Let relief be given by the elected representatives with minimum supervision by the administration. But all damage and need assessment must be done by the executive staff only. No elected representatives or political class in it. (b) To strengthen the system further let executive officers from outside the affected area or specially designated persons with appropriate knowledge and skills at the state and district level be entrusted with the task of assessment and the local executive and political class take care of relief distribution. This would minimize the controversies surrounding too much demand for too little relief.

Does someone have any data on, actually what percentage of tarpaulins out of those distributed have been used for setting up temporary shelters ? All such critical data will help re-plan emergency response strategies. Are some of our relief materials really feeding into the "wants" of people rather than "needs of people?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rule by Extortion err.... Subscription

There is a tradition of collecting donation which is equivalent to "subscription" as it is usually equally shared between families or individuals to celebrate the Durga Puja (Festival of Goddess Durga) in West Bengal. However, it is not an uncommon sight to see several youngsters, standing with sticks to collect money forcefully from vehicles that ply on the road that is closer to them. There had been even fights, vehicles running over these extortionists resulting in deaths, and traffic jam that results from this show of muscle power. Things have not changed. Now, practically for every celebration you could be stopped. The other day, my motor cycle was stopped in a village asking for this "extortionist" money for the Kali Puja (festival of Kali, celebrated in Bengal on the same day as Deepawali). I paid 10 rupees couple of days ago for the Muslim festival of Muharram which is still ten days away, and got a bill for five rupees with hardly anything to indicate that this will be used for any social or religious purpose. (I can't understand the reasoning for inheriting a bad tradition from anyone.) I have seen children stopping vehicles to collect money for celebrating Goddess of Wisdom (Saraswati Puja), and have paid three times in the same village at a distance of 200 meters each. How can wisdom dawn on children who bunk school and collect money to make merry at the cost of others! How can West Bengal develop if our youth are found to be splurging in money that is not theirs?  

Are we heading for an anarchist society? Have matters of faith have been transferred into issues of merry-making? Has the concept of donation has been taken away and extortion has replaced it? With the kind of rods and sticks these people wield around, all that one can do it, wait for the next election and press the button against the existing leading political party, and keep silent about all issues, most of the times.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Relief Quota

The training in Disaster Risk Management for Government officials of various departments, municipal departments and local elected bodies started in South Dinajpur district on 01 Nov and the first round of trainings will be over on 12 Nov, and again will restart on 20 Nov, and end on 23 Nov. It has been a very enriching walk back in the district as I had worked in the district through various development, health and disaster management programs. I could meet Mr. Banamali Roy, Block Development Officer (BDO) of Banshihari. He had worked in the Malda floods last year with me. Mr. Jayanta Das, Mrs. Reena, Mr. Subhash Topno, ….. all former colleagues who worked with me in various programs. Many new friends also have come up in all these blocks and in the district.

In Kushmandi block I came across an interesting situation which the block administrative officials shared with me. They said when the block administration saw that there are several people who are extremely poor and are destitute, and they need help, and arranged for the same, not only the political leaders, but even some of the lower level government officers objected to the same saying, “If you are planning to help them you do it yourself, and do all the works by yourselves. Or else, we have a quota, and follow the same!” In other words, each government officer has the “right” to help based on “his personal assessment”, and not on objective parameters. Be it a disaster response or help to any needy person, any objective assessment and assistance is abhorred and resisted. Well, I think, the anti-corruption group India Against Corruption should start working on these fundamental systemic issues rather than wasting their time in targeting individuals.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Needs and Wants

As I am involved as a facilitator in the training of district, block and municipal officials of South Dinajpur district, West Bengal, when we reach the session on Disaster Response and Relief Management, a huge question rises : how do we manage the gap between wants and needs. The Block Development Officer (BDO) of Hilli block was telling an incident. One day a old couple came and pleaded with him so much, almost crying, saying that they need some support by way of old age pension or some allowance as destitute under whichever provision he can provide for. So, the BDO called one of the officials and asked him to arrange for the necessary paperwork so that this old couple can get some support, at least about 200 rupees a month. Just then the BDO's driver dropped in and asked, "Sir, why these two people were here for?" The BDO replied, "They are poor people. They need some help. So, I asked to arrange for their support under the National Old Age Pension Scheme. The driver said, "Sir, these people are cheating you! They have two trucks and a car which they have placed on rent." The BDO immediately called the mentioned official and asked him not to proceed with the case.

This happens in disaster relief times as well, as everyone wants support for food, shelter etc. What do they do with all that? Often sell them off again. And at times they just want to accumulate. As it is said, "earth has enough to provide for every person's needs, but for everyone's wants." Where do we draw the line. It still remains a mystery to me as it becomes extremely difficult in emergency situations.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Watching Movies

I am not a person who likes to sit for cinema, although once in a while I see an English movie, and rarely a Hindi or a regional language film. But in the last two weeks I have seen two of them. That's for a record. The first one is Rowdy Rathore, in Hindi, based on a south Indian movie. I would rate it good, with  a simple story line of good versus evil, and impersonation of a person to grow from a bad person into a good person to destroy bad people! The other one we watched yesterday: Oh My God! It is about an atheist small businessman struggling with his own faith in humanism, when his entire shop is destroyed in an earthquake. The insurance company refuses to pay him the money because it was "an act of God". Now he calls to court all the agents of God (priests of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and every other religion) and takes you through the shallowness of faith of these "religious:" against the "apostasy" of his own commitment to "truth, justice, equality, service to the poor". In the process he must learn what true religion is all about, and teach others as well. A good movie to watch and reflect about. All must see.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Resilient Recovery Planning

The UNDMT has been training a host of people in resilient recovery planning (RRP) across the country, and I got the opportunity to participate in it held at Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, India. It was also a good opportunity to meet some of my friends in the same sector.

The training lasted for three days (16-18 October 2012), and we had about 25 participants. Lots of very good reading materials (known as Guidance Notes) were given. The objective of the workshop is to build a group of humanitarian actors to help UN organizations, UNDMT, Government and other humanitarian agencies for resilient recovery planning from 3 months after any major disaster. Other than for the field visit which took nearly six hours of travel for about 45 minutes of interaction with the community, the workshop was very good, although sometimes we jumped off the scheduled times of sessions marginally. 

It was nice  to meet Sanjay Bhatia, Abha Mishra, and several other old and new friends from across the country. The training is part of the International Recovery Platform's commitment to promote recovery resilient planning.

Monday, October 8, 2012

In Kathmandu Valley

On 6th morning I traveled to Kolkata and then took the afternoon Air India flight to Kathmandu. The flight had been delayed officially by about 50 mts as we were rescheduled to travel at 2.30. The boarding started at 2.15 pm only, and when boarding was completed, we saw power was coming on and off in the plane. At around 2.50 we were informed that the flight would be further delayed due to some electrical snag and the engineers were trying to fix it. By 3.30 we left Kolkata and landed in Tribhuvan airport, Kathmandu, Nepal at about 4.45 pm. Then I had the cab arranged by the Hotel Park Village. The evening was event less, until my companion for the training, Mr. Pradeep Bharwad arrived. We discussed about the WASH Cluster Simulation Exercise that is due on 8th and 9th Oct, as we chatted about preparation for the exercise. 

The weather has been cool and good, and the accommodation moderate, although I feel it is a bit costly for the amount we are paying. But the food is good and delicious. Internet is freely available only in the lobby, but the staying rooms are far from there, which makes it difficult for anyone to have access to it regularly. 

All prepared for the WASH Simulation Exercise. Hope everything goes well as this is a national level exercise with participation of several department heads, INGOs and UN organizations.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Little Surprises

I had days of little surprises throughout the week. Of them, two are more important as it involved visits by some of my friends. The first one is of Dr. Erich W from Germany. He had gone to Raiganj and was on his way back to Germany and had reached Kolkata on 27th morning. In the evening I joined him and two of his companions. We had some wonderful remembrances, little chat about my visit to his home nearly four years ago, the plans I have for strengthening higher education of children from tribal families and the plans he has for the village he and his companions support in Malda district. We had a wonderful dinner at Big Boss restaurant in the China Town, Kolkata. On 28th morning I had the opportunity to reach him to the airport and say "Good Bye".

On 29th I got a call saying that Mr. Mishra, a friend of mine from Odisha state of India was in the neighboring state of Jharkhand and is planning to visit me along with a few more friends on 30th Sept. And we had the visit of Fr. George Uthirakulam and Fr. Varghese Pally along with Mr. Mishra. It was really a big surprise, thrill and to say the least, I was excited. I took them around Bolpur - Shantiniketan, we had some good mutton curry for lunch, lots of talk about what I am doing now and how things are with CKS. 

Thank you friends for making the week a memorable one. The joy of your arrival still lingers on. Hope to meet you all soon again..

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Crash

My laptop has begun to give trouble. This is the problem of being dependent so much on machines. They are so reliable with their performance so much that you begin to depend on them, and then one fine morning suddenly it has a hick-up, and things go haywire. My network adapters in the Dell Inspiron Mini 1012 don't seem to function at all. I thought it is the work of a funky virus, and so, I got the laptop formatted. Now, I am left with a faster laptop with only the wired LAN working. My documents are safe, but do you think I should load all those 142 odd programs I had in my laptop once again and try all those documents, half of which I have not used for the last years, but don't know which one I would need when?  The crash was expected as my laptop is certainly overused, but I have put a new original Dell battery only a few months ago, and so I do not want it to let go. But the network problems I have with it, may ask me to just sell it off for a deal. What do you say?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Time Flies By...

The last two weeks went too quick that it made little time for me to be in touch with anyone. We had a review of the Center for Knowledge and Skills by an international organization so that we could be a partner to them for future interventions. It went off well. There was huge rush with preparing for the next polio round scheduled for 9 September. And so it involved field visits, meetings with staff, meetings at block, district and state level. On the other hand, the present project was getting over on 8 Sept, and so had to work on the new budget commencing from 9 September. There were guests coming in - from Seattle, USA, from Netherlands and from Kolkata. Today, at 7.30 pm, I felt I have completed most of the works and things are now on course. I can concentrate on other things and work on the coming polio round....

Monday, August 27, 2012

ToT for Health Staff

On 23 & 24 August I spent the time in Kolkata at a training of trainers for the staff of polio eradication program. Just 10 chosen ones were trained to train over 250 staff in certain communication skills so that they can effectively communicate with people and challenge resistance to vaccination of children. The training was mostly activity based with lots of reflective, analytical and demonstrative sessions. Rina Dey from Core Group was with me as the lead trainer and so that took off a lot of load of work from my shoulders. There was a meeting at ABCD on Child Protection and Education. Mr. Sarbjit Singh Sahota, the Emergency Focal Point of UNICEF country office had invited me to join the meeting. However due to the training of trainers I could spend only about two hours at the meeting on 24 Aug. Returning to Bolpur was uneventful, as I traveled with a Seattle University student who would spend the next couple of days with me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Training of Doctors in Flood Preparedness

I must write about part of my experience while training four groups of doctors in the State of Bihar in flood disaster preparedness. The training had been organized by Unicef and the Disaster Management Institute of the Government of Bihar. The training support was given by RedR India, and I was part of the RedR India team. In the first two trainings in Supaul and Madhepura we had to go beyond the training module as I and my co-trainer also had to work on improving the training module and schedule to help it more useful for the other eight trainings to follow. My third training was at Darbhanga where the district health administration was sluggish in organizing the program, and so had to wrap up the program in just five hours of total work in the two days. Then six such trainings in six other districts followed in which I was not present. The last of the trainings was in the district of Katihar, where I joined my co-trainer Dr. Prabir Chatterjee who was also my co-trainer in Madhepura. In Katihar the doctors and health personnel were very much interested in the training and wanted to know more and more. But, unfortunately, some of the IEC materials, training tools and some organizational faults on the part of the district personnel ensured that the program was not a big success. 

Looking back, it was time for me to share some very interesting and personal moments with my co-trainers. Learn from them and learn to be a better health conscious person, as all my co-trainers were professionally medical doctors. Thank you Dr. Ravikant, Dr. Prabir and Dr. Sanjay 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aminpur Water and Soil Testing Begins....

Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) and Visva Bharati University have joined to organize Water and Soil Testing as part of internship of two students from Environment Science department of the Visva Bharati University in Aminpur village, near Bolpur. Readers of this blog are aware that CKS works in Aminpur to help the poor tribal people of the village for their socio-economic development. In this major research activity to be conducted over a period of six months, one of the students will collect water samples from source, collection points in the village, storing facility at homes and from the hands of users. The study will help to analyse (a) hygienic behaviour relating to handling of water in the tribal community (b) ascertain the kind of activities that would be required to undertake as part of awareness building in the community.

In the other study, soil samples from the agricultural fields of the farmers will be collected over a period to study the changing nature of soil, and the support the community would require in terms of agricultural interventions to increase their produce.  Dr. B. Chandran from the Environment Science department will guide the students on the technical aspects of the study. We thank the faculty of  Environment Science for accepting to take up this study for the benefit of the poor tribals in the area, in collaboration with CKS.

Friday, August 10, 2012

India Disaster Report 2011

India's Report of Disasters for the year 2011, known as the India Disaster Report 2011 is already released. A friend of mine, Mr. Subhasish Debnath who works in UNDP shared the report with me. For the benefit of all who might be interested in the report, I thought of sharing it with you through this blog. You may view it by clicking on India Disaster Report 2012.

As for me, I am in Kolkata since yesterday. I was working with the Seva Kendra team yesterday (Thursday) to review their budgets, and today I spent my time with Professor P. Sahni from the IGNOU in understanding some new thoughts and concepts in disaster management. IGNOU is undertaking training in 54 districts from 11 states of India, in association with the National Disaster Management Authority. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Annual Report

The Annual Report of Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) is released. I thought of sharing a web version with all of you as some friends from other countries and other parts of the country were interested in having a look at it. So, here it goes.... You may also download or view it as a PDF file by clicking on CKS Annual Report 2011-12 Wishing you a happy reading !

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Five Years of Blogging

I didn't realize that I have completed five good years of blogging! Started on 3 June 2007, to be precise it is five years, two months and three days. The first three years got the maximum number of blog posts - almost one post on every fourth day. But the worst years where 2010 and 2011, the time when I had to reinvent myself. I see that I have already overtaken 2011, and will be in all probability crossing 2010 as well, and so, this year, I might end up with about 60 posts. I have shared so many reports, pictures, videos and my own views using this blog. I just love it.

The blogs have been my constant companion, They gave me opportunity to tell the world what it was all about Puthumai when Facebook was hardly known and Twitter was not known. It was also a place I could give window to my feelings. It is also the place where I could spell out my plans, dreams, hopes and who mattered in my life on that particular day or moment. My visits to the USA, Germany and my relationship with Seattle University occupy a lot of space, all thanks to Julia from Germany and Sean from Seattle. 

I remember the days, when if I google my name in Google Search, the name would appear as one of the last, in the 10th or 12th page. Today, you just enter Puthumai, and the first one you would find is this blog, and there is a lot more about me in the subsequent URLs offered. That's all because of the visibility this blog built for me. No wonder, more than 22,300 hits this blog has received in the last five years according to Statcounter that I added within months after I opened my blog. Later, on 17 Dec 2009, I added Clustermaps to see from how many locations people are viewing my blog, and it shows from over 72 countries and over 3,300 locations people have hit the blog since the end of Dec 2009.  Still I have problem with this.... It keeps telling me to join Google Adsense. But it doesn't seem to much sense for me.

This blog has just journeyed with me. Thank you Blogger. Thank you Google.

Leisurely Day

This Sunday was unusually leisurely for me. In the morning I got my travel bills prepared for settlement. Checked through a few reports on the internet. Then played with my dogs, gave them bath.... and had lunch, watched "Gone in Sixty Seconds".....and slept off as I watched. Continued the sleep on bed till 4.00 pm. Then some more play with the dogs. Went out for a while, prepared the accounts for settling training related payments of staff. And finally, sat down to write my blog! Not all days go this way. But I feel much relaxed. I need to prepare couple of one page reports, which should not take much time. And then will have sound sleep.

But tomorrow is another day. I will have a long day, as I will go to Kolkata, meet some officials at Goal India office, and then to Seva Kendra for reviewing the Polio Eradication program budget, and finally travel to Katihar on a two days trip. 

For now, I want to live in the present. Enjoy the time given for letting my body relax. Just RELAX.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Link to Tide and Wind Information Case Study

The report Community Based Early Warnings in South and South East Asia - Best Practice and Learning 2012 contains a chapter on Tide and Wind Information System promoted by Center for Knowledge and Skills with field implementation support from Concern Worldwide, Sabuj Sangha and other non-governmental organizations. The document can be viewed by clicking on TWIS as a Community Early Warning Model

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TWIS Gets Recognized

The Tide and Wind Information system which we started an year ago in G-Plot panchayat area of Patharpratima, South 24 Parganas District, West Bengal had spread to neighboring Brajabhallavpur panchayat area too. In G-Plot the non-profit organization IDASS was helping CKS for field coordination, and in Brajabhallavpur, Sabuj Sangha and Concern Worldwide jointly supported for the same. Now, this has been recognized by DIP-ECHO, the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid supporting Disaster Risk Reduction programs in the country, as a best model that can be followed and replicated.

Much of early warning in India is generic and non-actionable. This means, people get general information about the cyclone. However, they do not know either the possible impact of the wind speed on the community or the height of the tides at vulnerable points and ferry Ghats (Ghat is the local word for a wharf/jetty). We are working with our partners to ensure that people get access to as much scientific accurate information as possible in a way that is understood. Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) is the resource agency working with the communities in streamlining the system. Community members, boatmen, fisher folk and early warning task force members were oriented to the global positioning system handheld devices. GPS readings for specific points were then taken and coordinates sent to the Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) for incorporation into their own management system. At INCOIS computer scripting and satellite information management process takes about 7-10 days. Following which INCOIS generates tide and wind forecasts for next 3 days for the entire West Bengal coast, with locations segregated. The data are sent to the partner organization Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) who then sends out a SMS every evening to volunteers (often a shop keeper, a school teacher or a member of the Ghat committee) in the community. The message giving details of wind speed and tide level for the next 3 days are updated on manually operated display boards placed on 10 different ferry Ghats and markets where they are visible to everyone.  The manually operated display board has the following information which is color coded.
            ·         The dates for which the information is given
·         The expected height of the highest high – tide.
·         The warning level (Green / Yellow / Red ) for the location (in terms of tide height)       
·         The expected maximum wind speed
·         The direction of wind speed
·         The warning level (Green / Yellow / Red ) for the location (in terms of wind speed
After the message is received by the early warning group it is further disseminated to school and community members through the use of Flags, sirens and megaphones by the warning task force members at school and community level.

CKS would be happy to partner with other organizations for strengthening the system in the states of West Bengal and Odisha.

In the Center of India

Although I have traveled passing through the city of Bhopal a few times, on 28 July I got the opportunity to travel there (where I will stay till 3 Aug morning) to give a training in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Emergencies to mostly government officials of the State Government of Madhya Pradesh. The program is organized with support from Unicef. The journey from Kolkata by Jet Connect was on time, with a stop over at Raipur, and so eating up 4 hours for the short journey on an ATR flight. Bhopal is fast growing into a huge urban center. The arterial roads are wide, smooth and pretty easy to drive. The others are not bad either. I was put up at Amer Greens, a hotel on the outskirts of the city. The place is very beautiful as it is away from the noisy disturbing hurried life style of city. It is spread on a large area with plenty of light and space. The garden is well-maintained for the rainy season. Food was certainly good, although I found it to be a bit richer than I would like it to be. In the morning they give a well laid buffet breakfast. I also took to the gym so that I can burn some extra calories in the few days I am here. My co-trainer Mr. Pradip also joins me in the gym, and we work out together. It is also fun because we plan our sessions for the next day as we literally "sweat it out"!

It has been fun, relaxing and yet challenging to conduct the training of 25 senior officers in Disaster Risk Reduction with focus on WASH.

Urban Dumping Yard

The whole of Muzaffarpur city seems to be one big dumping yard. A huge solid waste disposal ground. I was there for few days in the town. Even a travel of less than two kilometers seemed to be a tiresome journey, with poor road conditions, huge potholes and unruly road behavior. When I traveled to villages and outside the city, the roads were much better, greener and easy to drive. What is the problem with this town that it is a deathbed for every citizen with poorest civic amenities on ground.

I must speak about the two hotels I stayed on. Hotel New Milan is on the main road, very close to Bibiganj in Muzaffarpur. The hotel is well connected, food is satisfactory, rooms are more-or-less tidy. But the quality of service and security features left much to be desired. Women traveling alone should not stay in this hotel at all. The other was Meenakshi International, which is situated just opposite of the Muzaffarpur train station. The rooms are large and decent, food is good, service was very good. They need to improve on cleanliness in rooms a little more. The positioning of TV in the room was not convenient in all the rooms. The hotel also has a large restaurant, meeting hall etc. But, I had one big problem: in spite of the word “international” it carries with its name, I could not pay them by card, and so had to search for an ATM. The road just outside the hotel gets flooded even with little rain, and it is totally filthy as there is no proper drainage and waste disposal mechanism in place in the municipality. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Unsafe Travel on the Wheels

17 July : I was traveling from Muzaffarpur in Bihar to Bardhamman in West Bengal, returning after the training to doctors in three districts on flood preparedness and response management. The train arrived at 7.20 pm, a good one hour 45 minutes late than its scheduled time. I was in two tier AC coach which is supposed to be one of the best coaches, with additional cost involved in it. But, to my surprise there were people who were going to nearby towns, who were even supposed to get down at night 1.00 pm, with ordinary tickets, but sitting in the two tier AC. They had bribed their way in by paying some money to the ticket examiner. When I returned to Muzaffarpur again on 20 July, I say even crowds with just current ticket going for a religious festival in the sacred month of Shravan in Hindu calendar, were forcing their way into air-conditioned coaches and the policemen were just watching helplessly. What is happening to the Indian railways? It is becoming difficult to travel safe in the trains.
After three days, I was returning from Patna. (I cancelled the ticket from Muzaffarpur due to the fear of being overpowered by the same “religious” crowds.) This time the train was a super-fast, and so did not have much stops and was not much crowded as well. At 1.30 am, policemen came and asked me if the bags which contained mostly the training materials were mine. I said, “Yes”. They said, “Jaagkar raheyega!” which meant, “Remain awake”. So, who is supposed to take responsibility if there are thieves and the several “religious” persons walking around in the train without any proper ticket? Me? I am supposed to keep awake? Ridiculous. If you have to take a train for your travel, do it only in emergencies, take care….Don’t sleep. And, better still, if you can avoid, avoid the Indian Railways.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Poverty Sells Child for Less than an Euro

Indian media is filled with a news from the Araria district of Bihar in Bihar state about a woman who has sold one of her children to a couple from Nepal at 100 Nepali rupees, equal to less than a Euro (Indian rupees 62.5).  On the one hand India keeps boasting of economic and social development, while on the other hand we have these incidents keep happening regularly where parents sell children for repaying debts or for their own survival. As I write this, a farmer has committed suicide due to burden of loan for agricultural purposes. The Shining India must ensure that the weaker lamps get enough oil to burn bright.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Public Menace and Public Outcry

It is already four days now, and the electronic media is playing out a shameless act of public molestation of a 17 year old girl that took place at 9.30 in the evening in Guwahati, the capital of Assam State in India. There are too many problems with the incident. The girl seemed to have had some altercation with a man inside the bar from which she was getting out when the incident took place. Who was this man? Did he instigate the mob to molest this girl and strip her? Some TV channels are suggesting that this was the scribe of a TV channel that broke the news first a day later. Someone else seems to have got a "raw footage" of the incidents without "the editing" by the news channel and has claimed that in the other video the audio can be heard of the scribe saying to another person how he had "organized the incident". Was the editing of the footage reason for delaying the telecast by a day while every channel fights to shell out "breaking news" as it happens?. 

The second point is, giving benefit of doubt, considering that the molestation took place on the instigation of another person, the TV channel has rightly pointed out that if it were not for the footage the criminals would have gone scot free as there would be hardly any evidence against them. This is absolutely true. In India, every day hundreds of women are abused, molested or raped. But things don't get the importance if it were not for TV footage. Why is this? Why each case is not taken seriously and has to wait for the media to take stand? 

There is a National Commission for Women. I have serious problem with this commission as their job seems to be just taking reports and sending out reports. Other than this, the commission looks like a toothless tiger. I have never heard of the Commission having charged anyone or a government and brought them to book. There is a need to give ample powers to this Commission so that it can take punitive action. Now, look at this: there is an unwritten law that a victim of molestation or rape or a victim who is a minor (below 18 years) is never named to protect the identity of the person so that the person can live a normal life. Can anyone believe that the officials of National Commission for Women, while addressing the media, revealed the full identity of the girl? This is callousness and the official must be shunted out of the office and suspended. Unless we send out strong signals to officials, such callousness will continue to live on. Responsible channels like CNN-IBN showed the media brief but by blocking the name of the girl with a beep. This is responsible journalism. 

The Chief Minister of Assam has promised action and has given deadline till 16 July evening to catch all culprits. The police has managed to get only 4 so far. Probably many molesters have already escaped the police net and have become fugitives in neighboring states.

Training Doctors in Flood Preparedness - Madhepura

Next our halt was in Madhepura, and instead of Dr. Ravikant, Dr. Prabir Chatterjee was supposed to join. I spent the day of 8 July resting and preparing some reports and formats. In the evening, I reached Madhepura and Dr. Prabir was waiting for me. We stayed at the Emmanuel Mission Hospital in Madhepura. The training was at the District Hospital with 32 participants, mostly doctors and a few health officials attending the training. Mr. Imran, the District Health Manager was helpful and kind although he could not give much time. (Thank you Imran for organizing the training, importantly for shifting the training venue from the lean veranda in the first floor to a wider veranda in the ground floor. Madhepura is in fact looking at another flood as river Kosi is carrying more water than the actual rainfall which is due to lots of rains in Nepal, the river's catchment area. I could also meet Dr. Augustine, a man from Tamilnadu, and lives here at the Emmanuel Mission Hospital as the hospital administrator. He is highly committed to live (with his wife and cute little child) on a small salary that this hospital offers to him. The hospital also needs some voluntary support. Doctors can volunteer to serve and to conduct operations here. Nurses and medical students can come and work as volunteers. And those who can may support with financial help. After completing the training on 9th & 10th of July at the Madhepura district hospital, I left for Darbhanga to start the next training for doctors on 11th & 12th, with much hope!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Mr. Tanaji Sen from RedR India called on an urgent note on the last day of June and asked if I can go to few districts of Bihar to train doctors in flood preparedness. I agreed because the training is going to be more challenging, new and certainly help me to learn more. The first district I was to visit is Supaul. On 4 July I reached Patna and had discussions with officials from Unicef, RedR India and my co-trainer for Supaul, Dr. Ravikant. The discussion started at 6.30 pm and ended at 9.00 pm. At the end of the day I knew that we will not be able to leave early for Supaul on 5th. And that is what it happened. Since some formats were not ready and some training materials had not been printed, we waited and left at 1.30 pm. Meanwhile, I had prepared on a better format for planning at the district and block level which the doctors can use for flood disaster management plan. 

A friend of mine at World Vision had helped us get a Scorpio jeep to take us to Supaul and to other places. Our driver was soft and slow on the wheels, and we had reached Darbhanga at 7.30 pm with another good two and a half hours of drive at his speed. So, we thought of calling it off a day. We went to a nearby temple to see as Dr. Ravikant was interested in visiting the place, and then stayed at Hotel Ganga within the Darbhanga fortress. (Hotel Ganga was big, costlier, but with poor service. I do not recommend people  staying there.) Darbhanga was ruled by the kings of Mithila and Darbhanga and the adjacent districts were known as the Mithila kingdom in the ancient days. On 6th morning at 5.30 am we left for Supaul and the first training started at 11.00 am with the district Chief Medical Officer inaugurating the program. The training was on 6th and 7th July 2012 with about 60 doctors, block health managers and other officials from health department attending the same. (On 6th we stayed at Hotel Gautam in Supaul. The rooms were small, but clean, and the service was good for just Rs. 600 for air conditioned double bedded room. And the food was cheap too. Just on the outside there are many eateries: vegetarian and non-vegetarian, all of them giving good food for spice lovers. I enjoyed my stay at Supaul. Would love to go back again!) Mr. B.K Verma and Mr. Pankaj Kr. Jha from District Health Society were very helpful throughout the program. On 7th, Dr. Ravikant left me at Saharsa and he left for Patna. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Days after the Polio Round

The days after the last polio round (from 24 June) were mostly uneventful. I spent some time in preparing the Annual Report of CKS which is now nearly complete, but for one or two simple details. I also traveled to Kolkata for field visits. A friend from United States (Ms. Mary T) was with me till 1 July. And so, spent some time with her as well. There was a visit from Core Group (Deputy Director Mr. Jitendra A visited for a meeting with all project coordinators and block coordinators. And, from 30 June till 2 July noon, I helped in preparing the team of trainers of CKS to go to Bihar to give a training in Disaster Preparedness. The days went too quick that I just couldn't sit down to write my blog. Pretty busy days. 

One thing that I have found to have happened to me is this - I have not found myself to be without work. If there is no work, I generate work ! People and friends continue to support me all the time. That remains a meaningful thing in life.Well, there was a sudden call from RedR India, asking me to go to Bihar to train doctors in Flood Preparedness. Till the day I left, not much of training material was available. All that I knew is, I will have to go to Supaul, Madhepura and Saharsa to give training to doctors and Block Health Managers for two days each.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Strengthening Early Warning and Alert System

Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) will shortly launch an Interactive Voice Response System to strengthen early warning and assist in coordination during emergencies. The system will be available in English, Bangla, Hindi and Nepali - four dominant languages spoken in the region. CKS has invested on the hardware and software, and would be happy to receive assistance from INGOs, NGOs, well wishers and friends to strengthen the system. The running cost of the system will cost around 10,000 rupees a month. With the objective that the people of vulnerable locations can receive information without spending any cost this service is being designed. It will run on a toll free number: 1800 200 1424. The system is expected to come live from 21 June 2012 or latest before the end of this week. We seek your support, guidance and suggestions. With back-end support from Chennai, Pune and Jaipur, this system is expected to grow with all of you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Presidential Race

India will soon have a new President. In all likelihood the nominee of the ruling Congress party, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, would get elected and would be the President of India for the next five years. In India the President's role is very limited as it is the Council of Ministers led by the Prime Minister who have the maximum power. More English in this sense. The Indians do not vote for the President! Only the elected representatives of the Indian Parliament and all the Legislative Assemblies in the states are eligible to vote. Now, more interesting part is: even here, whereas the value of vote of all Members of Parliament is the same, the members of State legislative assemblies differ depending on how many people live in that particular state. So, there is all the drama packed in. Although Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is a well known person, currently the Finance Minister of India, someone who is known for his wit and wisdom, and considered by all as a Statesman rather than a politician, and also is from West Bengal, the ruling party in West Bengal led by Ms. Mamata Banerjee has opposed his candidature. So, this has thrown the election open. However, the main opposition parties led by BJP are also divided in their opinion as some of them want to support Mr. Pranab as he is a well respected person and a senior leader. Well, as the drama goes on and the TV channels went on a 24 x 7 mode on the issue, the common people have been forgotten. 

I went to some of the places in Ward 46 of Howrah Municipal Corporation (just inside Kolkata in a sense) and beside Santragachi train station. What you see is the highrises on the highway. But behind it all runs the filth of the city occupied on its sides by the poor and marginalized, the under-served. And they do not want to give polio vaccine for their children because that is the only time they see the government people going to them, and at all other times, they need to run behind the government officials to get even mundane tasks done, like birth certificate for their children. I saw a cartoon a few days ago in which the "poor people" are talking among themselves: "Hope after the politicians all together send one man to occupy the 536 roomed house (referring to the Presidential Palace), hope they will give some time to put us in a single room at least."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I rarely get to know people quickly. On Friday, 8 June, a friend who works in a software company in Chennai told me about a lady and he asked me to call this lady to solve a need for a special program that we are planning at our organization: Center for Knowledge and Skills. The program that we are planning (about which I shall explain on 15 June), has been a dream for me in the last three months.  Even after speaking to four different companies to work out a solution so that we can take it further, we had moved not an inch.  I called her up at about 2.00 pm on that day. And since then, almost after every thirty minutes she kept me busy over the phone. Although I felt it a bit annoying initially, I could see by 5.30 pm that we were not only on track, but had already started off on the journey. I had kept the target date of starting the program on 16 June. With hardly a week to go, that which had not taken place for three months was suddenly looking like..… almost happening! And yes, by night 11.00 pm, we had arrived at a deal, papers had been shared, and even advance had been paid. That was really pretty quick.

The Saturday was no less. Since morning 9.00 am onwards more tete-a-tete. And at 13.00 hrs she called me to say, another deal had been struck in which we we had saved huge amount of money as the company with whom we would be participating will give us the service on a deal! Ooh! And then she called me at 4.00 pm to give the final message. We would be on and ready for trial by 13 June. I couldn’t believe my ears. Rarely  I get to see women of steel. And here is one--someone whom you can trust with a job, explain it, and forget it.  It is just done. Thank you Navaz.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mapping Brick Fields for Goal India

CKS has got another partnership contract to map 100 brick fields for Goal India. All these brick fields have been chosen by Goal India for promotion of water, health and sanitation indicators among those who work as laborers in them. CKS has been asked to map the brick fields on Google Maps so that these places along with all data available including development indicators may be tracked, and appropriate embeddable links may be generated for web deployment as well.

The task started on 1 June 2012 is expected to be completed by 15 July. The field level collection of data is underway, and would be completed before the end of this month so enable mapping and link generation.

We thank all the staff of Goal India and their partners for their valuable support. Our special thanks go to Mr. John W., Mr. Sujay C, and Ms. Wendy H., of Goal India office at Kolkata for their guidance and suggestions that have helped to frame this mapping exercise as a model.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Training of Community Mobilizers

Four big long days. From 7 – 10 June I am in Kolkata training 65 community workers in mobilization skills so that they are able to deal with the resistant families and are able to take up the challenge of making them understand the need of polio vaccine for their children. The challenge for us has been much more! There is regular drop out of these mobilizers (mostly women between the age group of 19 – 28) as their own families resist these girls and women from going out of their homes to work! And they do not want their women to move from house to house, talk to men and women, convince them about taking polio vaccine because it is socially unacceptable to them. 

So, at times it happens that even on the day of training they drop out! How to convince those who are supposed to convince others? The days were hot and humid, but the evenings had a bit of thunderstorm. In fact the newspapers reported that 4 people died in a wall collapse inside Kolkata, and two persons died in nearby Hooghly district, about 30 kilometers from Kolkata, after a lightening stuck a group of people watching a local soccer match. 

Coming back to the training part, I had just one long session on the first day, and on other days it was mostly coordinating with the other three trainers, and step in whenever required. I also managed to have couple of meetings separately : one with the coordinators and another with the supervisors, to understand gaps, to motivate them into program implementation and achieve highest standards in reaching the goals set.