Hindu Victims of Gujarat Earthquake Move into New Church-built Homes

Dec 13, 2002 02:42 PM EST

India -- About 150 Hindu families whose homes in the remote village of Mavnugam were destroyed in a powerful earthquake in the Indian state of Gujarat almost two year ago have moved into a new village built under the auspices of the Church of North India (CNI).

"The earthquake has changed our lives for the better," said Harji Kachara, whose family of six now has running-water in their house in the rebuilt village.

"Earlier, we had hardly any water during the summer," said Kachara, a farmer in the arid region where running water is a scarce commodity.

Official statistics estimate that more than 20 000 people were killed and half a million people were rendered homeless in Gujarat on 26 January 2002, when a tremor measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale shook the state. Non-governmental organisations put the casualty figures much higher.

Though none of the residents of Mavnugam were killed, the earthquake brought down all of the village's stone houses. The CNI oversaw the construction of the village in a new location, and each of the village's 147 families now have earthquake-proof homes.

In addition to the houses and a new 500 000-litre water tank, the church has built a village council office, school, health-care centre, drainage system and roads.

The new village was inaugurated at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the founding of the CNI on 29 November 1970, when several Protestant churches joined together.

"We celebrate CNI Day today by handing over these new houses and the village to the people of Mavnugam," said Bishop Z. James Terom, the CNI moderator, at the ceremony, which brought together church officials and delegates of international partner churches which had raised US$1.65 million for the rehabilitation work.

Two-thirds of the 38 000 houses rebuilt in Gujarat by non-governmental organisations following the earthquake have been sponsored by churches or organisations with a Christian background, said V. Arockiam, chief co-ordinator of the Gujarat relief and rehabilitation programme of Caritas India, a Catholic relief agency.

Another church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, based in the southern state of Kerala, was responsible for the construction of another village in Gujarat, Srinarayan Nagar, which was inaugurated last May.

By Anto Akkara Mavnugam