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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

Raju Raval
Summer 2001

I spent 31 days this summer in the Indian state of Gujarat. On January 26th, 2001 a major earthquake rocked the state with a measured severity of 6.9 on the Richter scale. During my travels throughout the state of Gujarat, I witnessed the after effects of the earthquake. In addition, I spent time at Ahemedabad's Civil Hospital, which was the main hospital used to treat that city's earthquake victims.

Although reports have previously indicated that nearly 35,000 people perished in the natural disaster, the final state reported numbers were 20,083 casualties and 166,836 injured. The largest damage was in the Kutch region of Gujarat, which is mostly desert. I spent the majority of my summer in Svarastra, a region including cities affected such as Ahemedabad, Rajkot, and Jamnagar. There were 370,000 homes destroyed and a total of 1,020,000 homes damaged. Some of the largest casualties came from the nearly 20 high-rise apartment complexes in Ahemedabad that fell. In terms of financial losses, the Indian government estimates that there was nearly $3.2 billion lost directly, from categories such as housing, social services, public property, and infrastructure. A total estimate of direct and indirect losses was $4.5 billion. Within infrastructure alone, there was severe damage to telecommunications, power stations, water supply, hospitals, railroads, and administration buildings.

The Gujarat earthquake, with its casualties, can be considered one of the largest natural disasters in human history. However, what I learned and witnessed during my month in Gujarat this past summer is also another story of hope and recovery. There was great international support, both financially and physically, that enabled Gujarat to regain its footing. There has been extensive rebuilding of buildings and repairing of damaged ones. Virtually every home and hospital I visited had visible damage from the January earthquake. However, the rubble from almost all of the collapsed buildings in the region I visited had been cleared and often rebuilt. International organizations such as the UN, USAID, the International Red Cross, and UNICEF donated manpower, airlifted specialized rescue equipment, administered medicine, and provided tents and clothing to the victims. Also, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank helped to finance rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts throughout the state. The Indian government was also very active in its response. Although many have criticized its rescue and recovery operations, almost all of the money donated reached those most in need. The Indian army set out 23,500 troops in the affected areas helping in all types of efforts from rescue to security. Also, the government has initiated new construction codes based on the future threat of a repeat earthquake. Even though aftershocks still continue today, and there were a few while I was in India, almost all are too minor to be physically detected oneself.

There was also a great response of the Gujarati people to former President Bill Clinton's visit to the earthquake region in March, 2001. The earthquake was quite a blow to the people and economy of Gujarat, but over the past eight months there has been extensive recovery on all fronts. It was wonderful to help out at Ahemedabad's Civil Hospital and BJ medical college, where my cousin studies. I also enjoyed spending time at M.P. Shah medical college and the Guru Gobind Singh Hospital in Jamnagar. This overseas experience gave me the chance to truly volunteer where help was needed most, and as I begin my studies at Oxford in a few weeks, the realization that public service is never done will continue to grow in my conscience.