Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jan 3, 2005: a post on andamanicobar@yahoogroups.co.in; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Jan 3, 2005

Isolated islands in desperate need
Jan 3, 1140 hrs
Port Blair, Jan. 3 (GUARDIAN NEWS SERVICE): A deperate group of starving survivors in one of the tsunami-hit Nicobar islands kidnapped the island's top civilian official and its police chief in protest at the inadequate relief operation, it emerged yesterday.  The survivors from Great Nicobar Island spent four days without food before trekking through the jungle to the wrecked headquarters settlement at Campbell Bay.
 When they arrived they discovered the island's assistant commissioner and deputy assistant of police eating a plate of biryani, witnesses said.

The crowd of Punjabi settlers took the men hostage, demanding that they provide help to the hundreds of islanders who were starving in the jungle.  ``The assistant commissioner was eating biryani in his guesthouse,'' one witness, Lilly Ommen, said. ``The men arrived and pointed out that they were starving. They also said there were people stuck in the forest with nothing, as well as many dead bodies.''

Mrs Ommen, who is now in a church-run refugee camp in the island's capital, Port Blair, said the group had survived after finding a sack of rice floating in the sea. They had made their way to Campbell Bay with a group of survivors by jumping over crocodile-infested canals.

``I'm very angry,'' Suresh, 22, a welder from Great Nicobar Island, added. ``We saw these people eating biryani. But we had nothing but rice soaked in salt water.'' The assistant commissioner was released after promising to provide more food. The kidnapping came amid mounting criticism of the Indian relief operation in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, where as many as 20,000 people have died.

According to aid agencies very little aid has reached the people who need it, with some island communities still waiting for help. Delhi has so far refused all offers of foreign assistance to the islands.  A group of aid workers from Oxfam who managed to reach Little Andaman Island yesterday described conditions there as appalling. They also said the local administration in Port Blair had made it virtually impossible for them to join the relief effort.

``The conditions are terrible. People are living in the open. They don't have a roof,'' Shaheen Nilofer, Oxfam's east India programme manager, said.  ``There are acute problems with water and sanitation. People have the right to receive humanitarian assistance. Who are they [the local administration] to decide we will take assistance from there and not from there? More people are going to die.''

The Indian government says its rescue operation across the 435-mile-long archipelago has been hampered by the islands' remoteness, and by the fact that pontoons and jetties have been washed away. On Great Nicobar, the tsunami and subsequent landslides have destroyed the island's only road.  ``All the small boats have been destroyed. We urgently need boats with metal bottoms,'' Hoslo Jiwa, an aid worker, said, after touring Car Nicobar, the island worst affected by the disaster, on Saturday.  ``You really need teams to hack their way through the jungle or use these small boats. On the really remote islands, God knows what is happening. They have only made aerial surveys and dropped packages.'' The local administration in Port Blair puts the death toll across the 572-island archipelago at more than 3,000. But aid agencies say that figure is based on out-of-date voters' lists, and fails to take into account the thousands of illegal migrants living on the islands who are now missing.

They say that on Car Nicobar Island alone, which was 80% destroyed, as many as 20,000 may have perished. From an unofficial population of 35,000, only 15,000 are still alive.

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