The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tsunami healing touch, 7 months on

New Delhi, Aug. 9: In a tsunami-ravaged village on the east coast, relief worker Ranganathan Ravi has penned a shopping list to help some of the worst sufferers in the tragedy regain their lost dignity.

A fishing boat, a milch cow, a steam iron and a psychiatrist are among items on Ravi’s shopping list as he seeks men and women above 55 from whom the tsunami snatched family members and livelihoods.

More than seven months after the waves killed thousands across Southeast Asia, reports released today by HelpAge India and HelpAge International show that the elderly are particularly vulnerable in disasters.

The reports based on surveys in India have shown that while there is sympathy for the aged, their physical, health and emotional needs are not taken into account during relief operations.

The reports said age discrimination caused older survivors to miss out on distribution of relief, monetary compensation and access to services.

“Relief workers interviewed generally identified children, particularly orphans, as the main group needing special provisions and did not regard older people as a vulnerable group with particular needs,” said one report prepared by HelpAge with support from the Disasters Emergency Committee, representing 13 UK aid agencies. The reports were released here by Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

“The surprising finding is that relief schemes tailored for the elderly were lacking,” said Mathew Cherian, chief executive of HelpAge India, who says several thousands of elderly people in India have been affected by the tsunami.

Ravi, a HelpAge officer in Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, is trying to change that with his “exclusively for the aged” shopping list.

Working with the Avvai Village Welfare Society, a non-government organisation, he has bought fishing boats, nets, cows, even steam irons for some elderly who had lost their land and houses and for some whose families now see them as a burden.

“They’re in pathetic situations,” said Madhavan Krishnakumar, an officer with the village welfare society.

“After a disaster, the aged are viewed by the younger family members as a liability. But when we deliver relief packages only to people above 55 years, it helps them regain their status,” Krishnakumar said.

Families without old people are not eligible for relief under the HelpAge project.

Here and there along the Tamil Nadu coast, layers of sea-bottom sand and salt have defiled what was once cultivated land. But elderly farmers, who cannot grow crops, now milk newly-acquired cows.

A HelpAge India survey, covering 856 elderly people, revealed that one out of two suffered psychological trauma. In one village, Ravi helped 26 elderly people receive counselling. “Three among the 26 needed prolonged drug therapy, but they’re all back in their communities now,” he said.

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