Beyond Bollywood: New Indian cinema finds critical and financial success

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To master any skill, use the learning technique that scared Bruce Lee

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Remembering Nellie

What the Fields Remember


Subasri Krishnan, The Caravan (18th February, 2015)

Thirty-two years ago, on 18 February 1983, Khairuddin, a resident of Borbori—a village located in the Morigaon district of Assam—could not help but notice the eerie calm of the morning as he woke up to go to work in his fields. “I woke up at 7 am that morning and saw no one around. None of my family members were home. Even the children could not be seen. I got worried and wondered where they all went. I assumed that they had all gone to my sister’s house nearby, but when I reached her place, I saw that there was no one there either,” he recounted. By 8 am, he could see teeming crowds of people carrying machetes and marching towards his village, but there was still no sign of his family. A frantic search across the village ensued, and he eventually…

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i-Rec conference outputs

The conference concluded last month but you can still listen to the recordings of the plenary discussions here. Read all the blog summaries of each day of the conference here.

To listen to my plenary talk on the Lessons from Nepal earthquake for recovery on Day 3: at 35 mins click here, and access the presentations in pdf

1. Nepal Earthquake 2015: Lessons for longer-term recovery from humanitarian response interventions: Click here

2. Cyclone Phailin: Linking preparedness to recovery: Exploring the past to build resilience to future disasters – Here

3. Environmental Justice and Disaster resilience in Assam floods and erosion – here

Feel free to write to me if you have any questions or suggestions, always eager for a discussion

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7th i-Rec conference is here!

For the past few weeks I have had the i-Rec conference on my mind, while ensuring CGI gets delivered to remotest regions in Nepal. Now I am in London UCL, to welcome 120 registered participants to the 7th international conference brought together by i-Rec, Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL) and official sponsors International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB).

The innovative conference format includes 14 round table sessions, 7 plenary sessions, London reconstruction walking tour, key note presentations and also introducing the book launch of the Second Edition of the Reconstruction Text-Book “Shelter After Disaster, by Ian Davis”, which was originally published in 1978 by Oxford Polytechnic Press.

This 7th biennial conference looks at the following sub-themes: 1) Disasters in urban context, 2) Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities, 3)Linking a past, present and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design and its influence on urban recovery, 4) Supporting urban risk reduction through reconstruction, 5) Relocation from hazardous areas and 6) Local governments, urban governance and institutions.

There are participants from both academic and practitioner backgrounds presenting research across both urban and rural contexts, and debating the major issues revolving in themes and trends in disaster recovery and reconstruction. What entails in the organising of such a conference of massive scale and what lessons can be drawn from such a collaboration of high levels of expertise and experience?

The conference had initially received 85 abstracts which were blind, peer-reviewed by 13 members of the scientific committee requesting for further details, improvements and encouraging practice-based approach, threading a balance between empirically-rich practice accounts with academic rigour and methodological preciseness. Tomorrow delegates from across 22 countries will gather to hear from and discuss newer areas of research and collaboration on disaster recovery and reconstruction in urban areas. More details are available on the conference programme and abstracts online. For live updates starting tomorrow follow me on Twitter: @snek87

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Some immediate reflections while leaving Nepal

Having spent two months in Nepal since the earthquake, I am taking some key lessons with me on how the relief happened and will shape the recovery processes in the future. It will be interesting to learn how Nepal rebuilds after this twin earthquake and what lessons apply for agencies involved in relief and recovery process.

1. Aid delivers: In the immediate aftermath, for almost a month there was a huge influx of international search and rescue teams – SARAID.UK being one of them. Many relief and charity organisations providing essentials, many volunteer groups providing medical and psycho-social support, such as students from TISS. These actors risked their lives, bearing the aftershocks and living out in tents as the general tendency was to live outside the buildings for the fear of collapse due to the still-ongoing tremors.

However within 30-45 days these players left, and only those who were interested in the long-run process stayed and planned for longer-term recovery and reconstruction. These included experienced humanitarian actors such Christian Aid, Oxfam, Care, Acted etc.

2. Cluster coordination is a jamboree: In another blog, I have already addressed what happens when cluster systems kick in a nation! In the second month, it seemed overpowering the local mechanisms and the government got onto a front foot to deliver aid to all the affected households.

3. Geography and politics matter: Although there was a huge impetus on getting aid delivered to one and all affected, there were lot of geographical constraints, poor logistical support, lack of roads and vehicular access. All the hilux, 4-wheel drives were hired by international organizations, and trucks and tractors by UN bodies to deliver food and relief.

4. Local government leads the process: The CDO – Chief Development Officer is the nodal person in the Nepal Disaster Management Framework at the district level. he ensured that international donors and all other actors in the district comply  with local mechanisms for relief delivery by sending out regular circulars, memos and MoU for agencies to sign on the dotted lines and deliver prescribed goods within prescribed timeframe to top-down indicated geographies.

5. Humanitarianism in recovery: Targeting and timeliness are two concepts that saw reluctant acceptance among the development actors in the nation. Although time seemed of crucial importance with oncoming monsoons, standards and quality of goods distributed due to supply chain bottlenecks were questionable. Moreover development mindset of actors prevailed who imagined that everyone affected had equal right to the relief goods being distributed. Although this has been seen elsewhere in disaster affected areas, it loses significance to give a CGI sheet to someone whose window is broken, or house has observed wall-cracks after the earthquake. The need-based approach vs top-down standard response strategies locked horns once again in the context of Nepal.

8. Development in WaSH pre disaster instrumental in ensuring that post-disaster sanitation and health scenario did not worsen post-earthquake. The use of safe water springs, safe water handling, and sustained use of shared toilets despite the damage of family latrines due to earthquakes ensured fewer people were susceptible to water-borne diseases.

These are immediate off-the-hip observations from being a reflective practitioner, a tag I have lately lovingly picked up for myself. I will churn these thoughts and empirical anecdotes and follow up with rigorous understanding and conceptual foundations. More to follow on this soon.

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Looking for recovery needs in Nepal

The multi-sectoral assessment team for the INGO I am working with is back with its initial findings. I pick a quote from an email exchange in the first week: “Everything that is being said is on estimation and we don’t have a clear picture on any particular need except that this response will require shelter, shelter and shelter and NFIs and shelter again.”

The coordination chaos manned by the UN OCHA has a spate of meetings everyday Centrally, then at the district level, within clusters and inter-cluster. Although the primary objective is to streamline and manoeuvre needs to the most needy and unreached on the ground, the fallacy of so many external agencies coordinating and leading the processes centrally and within districts and clusters is too chaotic to keep track of. There are cluster leads, then there are separate district cluster leads who report back and so many leads, and so many districts and you blind out the local agencies who have to advocate for any particular gap.

And yet we hold discussions on the successes of such initiatives, in Gorkha the CDO (Civil Development Officer – mandated to oversee relief processes through the DM Act) was easily overruled by the DDRC mechanism which is set up to coordinate and facilitate agencies for relief activities. What are their political colours and interests in these mechanisms, how feudal do they get?

The cluster led its way, threw some weight behind issues related to gaps in tarpaulin distribution in the first phase and managed to clear way for a second round of appropriate distribution adhering to standards. Initially agencies had provided households with maybe one, or smaller size or plastic sheets, covering a small percentage of households within entire VDCs.( village development committees) in that district. This was solved with agencies getting a go-ahead for a proper distribution of emergency shelter items – tarpaulin sheets, ground sheets and ropes for  each households.

In Kathmandu in the third week of May, I attended meetings where the cluster patted itself on its back to set up a mechanism with the porters and trekking associations in Nepal to reach out to the farthest areas in the north with basic essential survival kits for households preparing to rebuild before the monsoons. A cluster achievement indeed!

And I am back now in Dhading, another district filled with chaos, as DDRC expresses interest only in CGI (corrugated galvanised Iron) sheets distribution, directs agencies to cover entire VDCS without targeting and cautions against distribution of cash, whereas in Gorkha they don’t seem to have made up their mind to cash first or CGI? What role can cluster play here? Is the DDRC right in guiding agencies to ensure nobody is left out like the tarpaulin nightmare, or what are the interests behind this enforcement of rules arbitrarily? The households from upper VDCs have temporarily descended to the camps here, leaving behind the ruins in their villages.

In the meanwhile, amongst all the chaos and coordination jamboree, the rebuilding of households, ‘self-recovery’ activities continue as people are bringing down their houses brick by brick, sometimes relaying the walls and roofs over the remains of what stood earlier? How safe, green, better and resilient these are, only time could tell, clearly the agencies are caught up in discussions of another realm, mindfully ignoring the needs, processes and priorities of those who burnt the worst, and are still tiding through these waves suffering aftershocks each night and rebuild before the rains begin.

Thought and suggestions and experiences from elsewhere are welcome, as this 2015-05-29 18.10.34 thinks hard how best to suit her research skills to a humanitarian response..



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