Marcus finds hope among the ruins
On Thursday, 26 January Marcus Oxley, Emergencies Manager of CARE Australia, had a well-earned day off. Like millions of Australian residents, he had planned to celebrate Australia Day with a relaxing day at home, in Canberra where CARE is based. In fact, Marcus is not Australian himself but a down-to-earth Yorkshireman, whose parents still live in Guiseley and who remains an ardent Leeds United fan.
At first the day seemed to follow the plan. However, by late afternoon news began to filter through of a powerful earthquake in western India. At first, things didn't seem to be too bad, but by evening it was clear than the quake had struck a very wide area and that damage to property and loss of life was much higher than had first appeared. Ironically, India was also celebrating a national holiday Republic Day and many people who would normally have been at work or school had stayed home. As a result, thousands died in the rubble of their homes.
A few days later, Marcus found himself on a plane to India to join a CARE assessment team. The team would look at the level of damage to infrastructure, including buildings, water supply, roads and bridges and decide the best ways that CARE could help affected communities to rebuild their lives. CARE already had a long established presence in India. Although the organisation did not work in Gujarat, it has several health and education projects in neighbouring Rajasthan and was able to reach earthquake areas. By the time Marcus arrived, CARE had around 40 staff in Gujarat and had set up operational headquarters in Ahmedabad. Within days, CARE staff were distributing survival kits and ready-to-eat food to around 20,000 people in Anzar and Bhachau, two of the four hardest-hit areas of the Kutch District and were working to set up six temporary clinics, serving approximately 100,000 people throughout Kutch. The numbers receiving CARE assistance will eventually increase to one quarter of a million people. Varsamedi, which has a population of about 3,000, is one of the many villages affected. Situated 100 miles west of Ahmedabad, all but a few of its 600 homes were shaken to the ground. The quake killed few people in Varsamedi, despite the almost total destruction of its homes and shops. "Apart from a war zone, I've never seen this kind of devastation," says Marcus. Yet, people here have great resilience. Less than two weeks after the quake, Varsamedi is rising from the rubble. Already, vegetables from farms in the region are showing up in quake-ravaged markets. Merchants are clearing the debris, small businesses are reopening.
The scale of the devastation has paralysed some of those directly affected. Joshi Kishore Damji lost his home in Varsamedi. The grocery store where he worked was also destroyed. The father of three now lives under a plastic tent with his family. He has no savings, no insurance, and shrugs his shoulders when asked how he will rebuild his life. "I have no idea how to get going. I haven't had time to think". Marcus says villagers like Damji can be put to work making roof tiles and bricks for their new homes, giving them skills and a sense of purpose. As a civil engineer, Marcus is especially interested in the long-term rebuilding of Varsamedi and other villages. He looks at the broken stones and shattered tiles and imagines the future: neat new houses that combine the best of traditional and new technologies built with the efforts of villagers, business and government. He points to a brick home in Varsamedi that survived the quake. Neighbouring older homes of stone fared less well, though their roofs of handmade tiles on bamboo slats are ideal for an earthquake zone. Such light roofs caused fewer injuries and deaths than those made with modern materials. Marcus says that homes of hollow brick walls and tile roofs might be the solution for Varsamedi. However, he cautions that full recovery will take a long time. Some villages may be abandoned altogether and their inhabitants moved to new communities, others will be rebuilt.
"If you were in a real hurry, you could bring in prefab buildings from the United States and Canada, and in a few weeks have more or less permanent housing," Marcus said. "But I don't think that's what it's all about. You haven't got a dead community here. The human spirit is still here. That is what we want to try to recognise and understand."
For further information on Marcus Oxley and the work of CARE International ring Kaye Stearman, Press office, CARE International UK, on 020 7379 5247. Donations can be directed to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) on 0870 606 0900.
The DEC is made up of the UK's leading international development and relief charities. The member agencies of the DEC are ActionAid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International, Christian Children s Fund (CCF), Children s Aid Direct, Christian Aid, Concern, Help the Aged, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tear Fund and World Vision.