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India: Restoring family links for earthquake victims

15-02-2001 News Release 01/06

Following the earthquake that struck the Indian state of Gujarat two weeks ago, the Indian Red Cross Society, supported by the ICRC, set up a programme enabling quake victims to send news to family members elsewhere in India and abroad. Through the worldwide Red Cross / Red Crescent network, people outside India may also request information on their relatives by submitting tracing requests to their local National Societies.

" With many villages razed to the ground, large numbers of people are still on the move, seeking to join friends or relatives, while others are living in temporary shelters, " said Violene Dogny, ICRC tracing coordinator in India. " It may therefore take longer to find those about whom we receive enquiries from abroad. "

The Red Cross has based a team in Bhuj, the worst-hit town, and completed an initial assessment of needs in more than 30 villages. Around 25 personal messages have already been collected and sent to family members abroad, in most cases through the American, British and Canadian National Societies, but also through others in East Africa and the Gulf, where many Indian communities are to be found.

" We are very impressed by the solidarity which both the public and private sectors in India have shown, " said Jean-Luc Metzker, ICRC deputy head of operations for Central and South Asia. " Efforts were immediately made to restore some of the communication systems and as a result we have had fewer tracing requests than expected. "

While messages are being collected and forwarded, the Red Cross will continue to assess needs in many of the other affected villages located i n more remote areas. It will also keep on visiting hospitals so as to ensure that patients are in touch with their families. Finally, in coordination with other organizations working with minors, it will focus greater efforts on unaccompanied children.

" It is usually the most vulnerable who require such assistance, even when communication systems begin working again, " said Ms Dogny. " Last Friday, for example, we found the relatives of a new-born baby girl who, in the chaotic aftermath of the quake, had been transferred for special treatment to the Norwegian / Finnish Red Cross field hospital set up in the area as part of the International Federation's disaster response operation. "