India's refusal to allow access to the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands is preventing aid from reaching the most desperate survivors of last week's quake-tsunami catastrophe, international aid groups said Monday.
Although the country's death toll was expected to top 15,000, the Indian government has stood by its long-standing policy of restricting entry to the islands out of concerns for the security of a military air base as well as the protection of indigenous tribes, according to a report by the Associated Press.
"This closed-door approach of not allowing [non-governmental organizations (NGOs)] is delaying relief efforts," said Shaheen Nilofer, program manager for Eastern India for international aid agency Oxfam.
"Valuable time has been lost because of this delay. [India is] accelerating the miseries of the poor people," Nilofer added. "Somewhere, someone has to be responsible. If you don't take care of the survivors, the number of deaths can far outnumber the deaths from the tsunami."
But while India's government says 'no' to outside help, Mission Network New reports that believers within the nation are rising to the need.
Agencies and nongovernmental organizations already working in the region are currently providing a large portion of the current tsunami relief.
AMG International, which has been responding is mainly in Andhra Pradesh, has already started the distribution of needy items to the victims in these villages. They have distributed rations, clothes and other needy items to nearly 700 families in villages near Machilipatnam, Krishna District.
"We have many national workers that work right there along the beach among the fishing villages because, in the past, there have been problems with cyclones, on many occasions, we have quite a bit of experience in bringing relief to those villages," AMGs area spokesman Paul Jenks told MNN.
AMG teams have also already moved to help fishermen in Adivipallipalem. Near Chirala, they have provided them with cooked food, and distributed rations and other things.
In addition, teams are distributing rations in Pottisubbayyapalem and Ramapuram villages. Jenks told MNN that District Collectors have more confidence in AMG because they respond to the need immediately and also because they do the work sincerely and honestly.
"God is in control, and that's part of the message that is being given, even as these rations and clothing items are given out is that there is a place where they can find peace and a sense of safety and solace, and that is in Jesus Christ," Jenks says.
According to AMG, teams of workers are not only taking items to the villages and distributing them, but also offering prayers, Bible reading and the message of the Gospel, while speaking about the compassion and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jenks says now, more than ever, hearts are open to the Gospel.