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Church Association Unites NGOs In West Bengal

Updated: July 16, 2008 12:14 PM GMT
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The Church in West Bengal state is collaborating with a United Nations body to develop cooperation among NGOs in order to avoid misunderstanding and duplication in humanitarian services. ia_kolkata_west_bengal_state.gifOn July 10, representatives from 12 social-work agencies formed Inter Agencies Group (IAG) to help them address major issues facing the state. They met in Kolkata, the West Bengal capital, 1,460 kilometers southeast of New Delhi. The state unit of UNICEF (United Nations Children´s Fund) organized the meeting mainly to study the situation in two West Bengal districts, East and West Midnapore, where flash floods on June 17 left about 100,000 people homeless. Meeting participants chose Father Ignatius Philo Sarto of Asansol diocese as the new group´s convener. The priest is secretary of the Association of Bengal Collaborators for Development (ABCD), which coordinates diocesan social-service societies in the state. The new forum will use the ABCD office in Kolkata as its secretariat. Father Sarto, 52, told UCA News past experience has convinced the agencies to work together. He cited the response to the 1999 cyclone in neighboring Orissa state as an example of work duplication that left people to suffer. Several agencies tried to reach people in the same area with relief while neglecting other affected areas, he explained. A similar situation arose during the 2000 flood in West Bengal, causing misunderstanding among the agencies, the priest recalled. In 2000, UNICEF invited various agencies in the state to pool data and resources in facing major disasters. Explaining how ABCD became the uniting force for IAG, Father Sarto said the Church association works closely with Caritas India, the Indian bishops´ social action organization, and the American bishops´ Catholic Relief Services. It also collaborates with other agencies who work with diocesan social centers in the state. These agencies realized ABCD´s past experience would help it coordinate IAG, the priest said. Parnasree Roychowdhury, who took charge of UNICEF´s emergency office for West Bengal and Assam states in May, told the July 10 meeting that IAG wants the agencies to come together not only to face major disasters but also to make contingency plans in advance. The IAG members needed to agree on certain common minimum action programs concerning major issues related to the state, she added. She asked Father Sarto to invite all agencies in the state to become IAG members. Other current members are Lutheran World Service, Calcutta archdiocese´s Seva Kendra (social service center), Raiganj diocese´s Social Welfare Institute and Udayani Social Action Forum. Subhasish Debnath, of the United Nations Development Program´s disaster-management cell, said IAG´s primary role is to negotiate with government agencies, especially during major calamities. He told the meeting he wants agencies to get training in community-based disaster preparedness. Another task he set for IAG is to meet with government officials every two months to plan aid to people in difficult situations. According to Debnath, the government often requires micro-level assessment of situations that only NGOs can provide. IAG should think beyond immediate needs and plan for possible major disasters in the future, he added. Father Puthumai Nazarene, who directs the Raiganj diocese agency, told UCA News the new forum can present the government facts on an issue and demand action. "We need to think of solutions out of our boxes," he remarked. Father Sarto said IAG is planning a three-day workshop in August for its members on scientific and technical bases for conducting needs assessment. END

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