New Delhi, Jan 18 : Escorting relief teams, giving medical treatment and providing logistics support to the UN - India’s Lt. Col. Pronob K. Roy and over 150 fellow Indians of the UN mission in Haiti have been working tirelessly and without sleep since a devastating earthquake hit the country a week ago.
It was on Jan 12, at 4.53 p.m., that the earth shook violently with a magnitude of 7.0 in the Caribbean nation, flattening whole swathes of the country, with conservative estimates saying that over 50,000 people have perished.
The Indian contingent deployed with UN’s Haiti mission, called MINUSTAH, consists of a 140-member Formed Police Unit (FPU), mainly from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), as well as 11 UN police officers. There are also 51 Indians working with Trigyn Technologies Ltd, a Mumbai-based company that provides IT support for UN missions.
India has sent $1 million in cash for emergency relief, and topped it with another $5 million. But what Col. Roy and other Indians are doing for the quake victims is an untold story.
For Roy, who landed in Haiti 24 days ago on deputation from the Indian Army to the UN logistics unit, his own survival is a miracle - three times over.
“I was supposed to be in the UN headquarters but due to my presence in another conference I was lucky the first time,” 38-year-old Roy said
The logistics base was located at the foot of a hill on which the MINUSTAH headquarters, operating from a hotel, collapsed, killing its chief, Hedi Annabi, a Tunisian, and over 100 UN personnel.
The next miracle was when Roy survived the quake in his office at the logistics base, the computer, air-conditioner and almirahs falling around him. Cracks bloomed on his office walls.
Unshaken, Roy returned after the tremor into the damaged office to see if he could salvage anything. “Bang came the first aftershock in 15 minutes. This time the windows cracked on my back. Still I managed to survive,” he recalled.
While the FPU members are safe, the building developed several cracks. “All the personnel are now sleeping in the open and not using the concrete structure for their stay.”
With collapsed buildings, strewn bodies and roads clogged, the Indians working with the UN rallied immediately to start giving relief work after the killer quake.
“I got the first communication from a local who came rushing saying that the headquarter building had crumbled. The whole city was in a jam. Petrol pumps were burning. There was utter chaos,” said Roy, whose family is from Kolkata.
With all the UN senior officials untraceable at the collapsed MINUSTAH headquarters, Roy, deputy chief of the integrated support services, Minustah’s Logistic Base Crisis Centre, was given powers to take charge till his next superior was found alive.
“Within 45 minutes, I went on my aerial sortie to see the situation,” Roy said.
Indian personnel were also crucial in getting power and water supply restored to the premises of Minustah within hours.
“The water pipes had burst and the plumbing had clogged. Bhupinder Singh, a water treatment plant specialist, reported to me at 3 a.m., walking on foot from his collapsed house,” he said. Singh used his ingenuity to connect the water lines and operate the pump station by 6 in the morning.
Indians used to working with lesser materials have been inventive in managing with the broken-down infrastructure, dealing with unimaginable destruction and death on a regular manner.
“When you see a corpse you don’t panic, you call another guy and lift it and put the body in an orderly manner. When you do not have refrigeration container to put it in, you empty a container which has food and keep the body in it and use the food to feed the people.”
The Indian FPUs have been put in charge of escorting the rescue and relief teams that are rushing to Haiti from around the world. But the Indians have been going beyond their call of duty.
With all hospitals collapsed, urgent medical attention has been given by the FPU, who set up a medical camp within the premises. There are also another 35 Indian nuns working with the Missionaries of Charity, who are also engaged in humanitarian work.
“We have been working for six days without sleep. I don’t know how I have been going on. I really, really want to put on record how amazing our boys have been,” Roy said.