Rampaging elephants add to Orissa's woes

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The Independent Online
TO ORISSA'S disasters of wind, tidal waves, floods, hunger, thirst and disease, a new terror has been added: rampaging hungry elephants.

Until 18 days ago, Chandaka Elephant Sanctuary's 70km-long fence penned the herds of wild elephant; groves of bamboo provided plentiful food. But when the 250kmh winds struck on 29 October, practically every bamboo was uprooted and in several places the perimeter fence was destroyed.

Now the elephants are hungry and from 10 villages around the sanctuary's periphery reports are coming in of herds searching for food and terrifying inhabitants. Last week 200 residents demonstrated at the sanctuary's office, demanding protection. But forest officers say forcing the animals back into the sanctuary in the present conditions is impossible.

Elsewhere in India, indignation is building at the laggardly relief operation by Orissa's state government. With deaths at around 10,000 and rising, and the state belatedly admitting a cholera epidemic is now possible, the Orissa relief effort appears still not to be running smoothly.

While MPs compete to have aid directed to their own constituencies and businessmen say the state's industrial development has been put back 20 years, in the worst-affected areas hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, still lack food and shelter.

The state's administration, not a byword for efficiency at the best of times, appears to have crumbled under the disaster's impact. A few days after the cyclone, the state's Chief Secretary, S B Mishra, the top bureaucrat responsible for implementation of policy, took leave and flew to the United States, where his daughter had become ill. Several other officials, including district collectors, followed his example and deserted their posts or refused to leave the safety of the town. One reason for their performance is the fear they may be lynched by angry local people.

So while relief continues to pour in from other parts of India and abroad - Britain's Department of International Development has contributed pounds 1m - much of it is has yet to reach the needy. Aid lorries clog the capital, Bhubaneshwar, lacking clear directions on where to go. India Today magazine said 13,000 tonnes of food, 60,000 saris and other garments and more than pounds 7m of emergency relief remain undistributed.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is appealing for funds to help the relief effort in Orissa. Credit card donations can be made to 0870-6060900 or online at www.dec.org.uk