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India Earthquake: "Enormous" Needs Dominate Current MSF Activities
February 6, 2001
"The needs here are simply enormous. Whole villages have been flattened by the quake, and more than 10 days after the earthquake, people are still sleeping in the streets or sit huddled around fires to keep warm at night. It will take a long time before these people can achieve something like a normal life. In the meantime, they are dependent on the tents and blankets that we bring them." — David Trevino, MSF logistician in Bhuj
Before the earthquake struck, Bhachau was a city with a population of 65,000. Since the earthquake, it has been emptying as survivors who have the means and funds have left for the safety of other regions. Those left behind are often the poor and those incapable of travel.
North-east of Bhuj
Two MSF teams, composed of one logistician and one medical person in each, conducted assessments of local villages to the north-east of Bhuj prior to Tuesday's scheduled goods distribution. A total of 14 villages are scheduled to be visited.
Due to a lack of family tents, MSF has begun distribution of plastic sheeting, blankets, collapsible water cans and rope. Each family is given 24 sq meters of plastic sheeting to provide them immediate, temporary shelter.
Update: February 5, 2001
Doctors Without Borders volunteers distribute supplies in Bhuj. © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF
Distribution of the latest material should start today. MSF is distributing the goods via hired trucks with a five-ton capacity per truck. The target area is the entire quadrant contained by the north and east boundaries.
The current MSF strategy is to fulfill the needs of each village before moving on to the next. This has allowed greater cooperation and communication between the participating NGOs in the same area, preventing unnecessary duplication.
Relief items being distributed include tents, blankets, plastic sheeting and collapsible water containers.
MSF teams visiting villages to the north and east of Bhuj are confident no injured people remain in these places. However all primary health care facilities have been destroyed and MSF staff are watching for signs of possible epidemic outbreaks. This is a key concern in Bhuj where the number of survivors and hidden dea, are the highest. However epidemics are not a current health concern.
There is no need for an MSF surgeon in the area, although fractures may take a long time to heal. Army and local hospital staff have been able to manage the present needs and have the necessary materials and equipment.
The MSF psychologist at the earthquake scene has been setting up training groups and workshops with teachers, social workers and similar professionals to form the base of an outreach program to extend into the villages surrounding Bhuj. The program is being done in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) who has an Indian psychologist working there as well. The CRS psychologist is expected to have a longer-term commitment to the disaster area.
What is crush syndrome?
Experience treating earthquake victims shows that kidney failure is a major cause of death among those who survive their initial injuries. In an affliction known as "crush syndrome," muscle tissue damaged after severe internal injury can release massive quantities of toxins into the bloodstream and lead to kidney failure. Left untreated, crush syndrome can be fatal.
The current mental health situation has seen an increase in anxiety, depression and anger among the surviving population. Elderly people are also suffering from guilt as often they have survived while their grandchildren have died.
MSF's second charter for India left Europe the evening of Feb. 2 and is bringing another 40 metric tons of essential relief supplies to the earthquake region in India. With this flight, MSF will have transported 80 tons of relief supplies to the region. Four more staff members—logisticians and one nurse—will be joining MSF's 10-person medical team to increase the organization's field strength in essential areas.
The MSF team already present has found that medical needs have largely been met and hospitals are well supplied. The area most immediately needs relief items. The MSF cargo includes tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, and water containers. MSF will accompany mobile clinics and relief trucks to the small villages north and east of Bhuj where 60 villages have been almost entirely destroyed.
MSF is also preparing for potential disease outbreaks caused by poor sanitary conditions.