Why As A Doctor, Chennai's Flood Relief Camps Break My Heart! - Poem by Dr.V.K. Kanniappan
No day is another day in paradise in any of Chennai’s
many relief camps; I smelt it before I saw it. The huge piles
of garbage including human and animal excreta raise,
used sanitary napkins, animal carcasses and the multitudes
living in and around them just numbed my brain! 1
The camps I visited on Sunday bore a grim testimony
to the harsh reality of lack of hygiene inmates faced many,
some of whom have been in the camp for almost a month.
The fury of nature over the past few weeks coupled with
city’s poor preparedness for a disaster of this magnitude! 2
This is complicated by the continued, overwhelming
disregard to hygiene and sanitation in our own streets;
The solution doesn't lie in blaming the government, criticizing
systems and structures, questioning delays on disaster
response, political affiliations and issuing advisories! 3
We have only ourselves to blame for the city’s present
unhygienic conditions due to hoarding of our garbage,
an eye-sore in every street. Our solid wastes dumped
into impotent drainage systems that require super powers
to clean them; As this could not be done much earlier,4
we may be on the urban epidemic of mammoth proportions.
We saw it coming and waited for an act of nature to blame.
According to a report from the Government of TamilNadu
on 6th December 2015,14,32,924 people have been
evacuated from low lying areas in the state! 5
What were they doing there in the first place? I wonder!
The booming real estate market in Chennai and its suburbs
which highlights the ‘top 10 reasons why you should invest’
does not favor those who have lived on the banks of Adyar
and Coovum rivers for decades! 6
Multi-storied apartments on landfills continue to flourish,
mocking the city’s fragile, underground drainage systems.
Of course, the city did brilliantly to help themselves
to face such a terrible disaster - the hand-outs and efforts
of philanthropy in the relief camps are indeed appreciated! 7
When relief response is ill-timed, duplicated,
not coordinated, not based on actual needs
and not addressing our behaviors and practices,
it might be counter-productive; The mind-boggling amounts
of plastic water bottles, plastic bags, paper plates,8
And biscuit wrappers will only lead to more clogging
of the city’s burdened drainage and garbage sites.
Unless this is taken care of by us, my heart goes out
to the lean, sickly-looking garbage cleaner on his tricycle;
His inebriation is understandable! 9
He deals with collection daily over the past few weeks.
I am amazed at our own apathy that we don’t mind
living in such despicable circumstances and even allow
our children to live in the same way; For the civilized
and culturally rich state that TamilNadu is known to be! 10
this season revealed one of our true colors,
our seemingly ‘normal’ notion that hygiene and sanitation
is the neighbor’s business and not ours to own.
Unless you and I (Yes, I am responsible too!) awaken
from this complacent nap and not pass the blame around,11
this year’s disaster may herald the beginning of a diseased
era for a historic city; a city trapped in its own garbage sinking;
As the dark waters on the streets swirled around my feet, with
stench of human waste filled the air, I looked up at the windows
of a relief camp in Saidapet, devoid of any power supply! 12
Jeyachitra was smiling in the dark as she held up
her 10-month old son to me proudly. Tomorrow
is just another day for her – more biscuit packets
and tamarind rice, more water packets, a battle of wits
to answer nature’s call in the dark beside the train tracks.13
May be she will bathe her son tomorrow,
maybe not. Maybe a film star might visit them,
maybe she will return home.
And just maybe, to a cleaner,
This presentation is based on the article by Dr Anita Victor about the flood in Chennai and suburbs with its calamities.
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