"We shall go back only when the earth is at peace"

Aiding the earthquake victims in Maharashtra State, India

Jimmy B. Foster, P.E.
Director of Public Works
City of Plano, Texas
Chair, APWA International Affairs Committee

Note: The following is an article written by Jimmy B. Foster concerning his involvement in an earthquake response some years ago. At that time (mid-1990s) he was working as an international humanitarian aid consultant and had gone to India to evaluate the needs after a severe earthquake. This article is offered as an example of how APWA members can be active in international activities.

I looked for signs of the earthquake, but the undulating countryside of Osmanabad and Latur districts revealed only their fields of color—the bright yellow stretches of sunflower and mustard plants contrasted with the rich blackness of the soil and the soft green of grasses pushing up as a result of the late rains. October is normally the time for the sowing of the jowar, a wheat-like grain which is the primary crop of the region. Where is the catastrophe? Where is evidence of the 10-15,000 killed in the earthquake and the 20-30,000 injured? Passing by field after field on approaching the village of Sastur, I noted the near absence of workers tilling the soil. Then it hits you. Ahead are small mountains of stone and rubble that 6,000 citizens of Sastur once called home. 1,223 died there on September 30.

Typical home construction in this area of India is walls made of granite boulders, 6-12 inches in diameter, cemented together by mud. Large branches of trees provide the framework for the roof which is overladen with approximately 24 inches of dirt to provide some insulation from the summer heat of 42ΓΈ C. A steady rain, lasting several days, had saturated the dirt, and the tremor turned the mixture into cascading torrents of death. Most died from the falling rock of their homes or were suffocated by the mud that covered them.

It is now clear that the series of earthquakes that hit the area in the pre-dawn hours of September 30 and which peaked at 6.4 on the Richter scale affected, with varying intensity, 84 villages in the region—52 in the Latur district and 32 in the Osmanabad district. Prior to the earthquake, the affected villages in these two districts had populations of 103,574 and 78,285 respectively. Twenty-four villages were seriously affected in Latur and thirteen in Osmanabad. Of the 10-15,000 killed, most were children, according to K.S. Sidhu, Secretary, Department of Health of the Maharashtra government. While able-bodied men and women could claw their way out of the rubble, sleeping children did not stand a chance. Many of the villagers lost all, or much, of their livestock and their farming implements. They lack the resources to replace them.

Few villages have been left intact in Latur and Osmanabad districts. Once alive with the activities of rural India and the infrastructure and institutions that any community needs, a large number of villages have been erased, or at least made unrecognizable. Memories of death and fear remain. Many villages will not be reconstructed in their previous locations. The hills of rubble will be monuments to those who died there. Rahul Pathak, writing in India Today, said:

Nor is there any cure for fear. As little aftershocks continue to terrorize the area, people stay in tents outside their houses. They believe in every astrologer and prophet of doom. Chhaya Kulkarni, a beautician, says she actually bribed an official a hundred rupees for a set of dates on which the next quake might occur. These are neatly scribbled inside the tent, lest they forget....The fear of death is more powerful than death itself and there are no easy solutions, except, perhaps gradually phasing out the old housing technology. Till then, Latur will have to conquer its fear.

Most of the homes in Maharashtra State are built of mud and stone—a technique called random rubble masonry. Having thick walls and roofing, the houses had little vertical support, and the walls caved inward during the quake. Compounding the problem was the traditional roof of grass-covered mud about two-feet thick.

Some estimates indicate that 97% of the homes in the most-affected villages of Latur and Osmanabad districts were damaged. More than 32,000 homes must be rebuilt in the two districts. Earthquake-resistant structures could have saved many lives. Mr. V. Suresh, the Director of Corporate Planning, Housing and Urban Development Corporation said, "There is a simple A-B-C formula—anchorage, bracing and connection—that will make a construction earthquake-proof." As a professional engineer, I concur in that assessment. It was interesting to note, in the three villages that I visited, the few buildings that remained upright—all had some form of vertical reinforcement or had the anchorage, bracing and connection that are recommended.

On October 28, four weeks after the earthquake, I found myself in the village of Sastur, one of the more completely destroyed communities of the region. I stood in the middle of the rock rubble. From my experience in municipal engineering, I could have imagined myself standing in a landfill—one in which the garbage had been covered with rock instead of dirt. Ten feet away was the decaying body of a small dog. Only when observing the collapsed multi-story buildings or the still-standing doorways could I more properly imagine the disaster that had occurred.

Sastur, a village of 6,000, had the appearance of having been bombed—a devastating one in which no buildings were left standing. It is difficult to see how anyone lived, but several thousand did. The people, however, have nothing left to return to. Many of their family members were killed, their livestock were killed or frightened away by the earthquake, and the infrastructure (wells, electricity, schools, clinics and businesses) of the village was completely destroyed. In Sastur, on the lintel of one of the remaining doorways, was the following quotation: "Service to man is service to God." The message seemed profound to me.

Two other villages, Holi and Khillari, were visited as well. Both contained the same type of devastation, except for a rather gruesome observation. The two villages had several locations where there had been some obvious burning—the ashes were still there. Were it not for the small bones shining white against the gray ash, one could have easily mistaken these burned plots as campfires. They were, in reality, the residue from the funeral pyres where many of the 10-15,000 were cremated. It was one of the most disturbing sights I had ever seen.

Balchandrabhau Pawar, who, with 40 other villagers from Khillari, fled to Bombay after the quake, remembered the events of that night on September 30 this way:

Every time a huge truck rumbles past, we tremble. It reminds us of the sound of the earthquake—the roar that rose from the depths of the earth. We shall go back only when the earth is at peace.

The earthquake orphaned an estimated 700 children. Although some orphans will have some relatives to claim them, there will be many that are destitute.

I was introduced to a young girl, three-year-old Varsha Patil, who was seated cross-legged on a large bed at the Solapur Civil Hospital, her fractured arm in a sling. For a girl of her age, she is unusually grave, and her large eyes seldom leave her uncle, as if to reassure herself of his presence. And, as if he cannot meet her gaze, the uncle is seated on the edge of her bed, his head bowed and shoulders drooping, his face a study in despair.

Varsha, his sister's daughter, lived with her brother, mother and grandmother (her father died a couple of years ago) in Tawsi Gad village of Latur district. When the earthquake struck, Varsha, asleep beside her mother, had miraculously escaped death. A collapsed door had protected her from the falling debris, and given her breathing space. Rescued 36 hours later, she had first asked for water, then for her mother.

In one village, classes were being held under three tents. The teacher told me that, prior to the earthquake, the school had 185 students. After the earthquake, the number was reduced to 99, meaning that 86 had either been killed in the quake or had fled the region. Nine children in this one small village had been orphaned by the quake.

A pleasant and informative conversation with the district commissioner in Umergu revealed the scope of the government's response and the current unmet needs. The Indian government and a few international NGOs responded quite satisfactorily to the emergency needs of the earthquake victims. There were numerous tent cities in which the people had the basic necessities of continuing life. The major remaining problem was the reconstruction of the houses that were totally destroyed. The government identified three earthquake-resistant standards for reconstruction: a small (250 s.f.) house for the poorest, one slightly larger (400 s.f.) for the moderate income earners, and a 750 s.f. house for the most affluent.

Jimmy B. Foster can be reached at (972) 769-4128 or at

APWA international delegation visit of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, March 29-April 10, 2004

From March 29-April 10, 2004, George Crombie, Director of Public Works, Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Brad Kutzner, Assistant City Engineer, City of Poway, California, along with APWA Past President Geoff Greenough, Commissioner of Engineering & Public Works, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, were guests of the Slovak Public Works Association (SPWA) and the Czech Republic Public Works Association (CZPWA). Crombie and Kutzner were Jennings Randolph Fellowship (JRF) winners studying public works delivery systems in these countries. Greenough is Chair of APWA's Task Force with SPWA and represented APWA at their meetings. Crombie, who is also Chair of the Solid Waste Management Committee, was studying solid waste management practices in these countries while Kutzner was studying methods for developing capital improvement projects in the Eastern European Union.

The delegation attended the SPWA Spring Conference in Michalovce, Slovakia and the CZPWA Spring Conference in Trebon in the Czech Republic. Special activities were programmed for the spouses. Both annual meetings had technical presentations as well as equipment shows with around 150 delegates at both meetings. The APWA delegates made presentations at both conferences. While advance notification of these two conferences and the public works tours were featured in the APWA Reporter, few enquiries were received.

Crombie's presentation on solid waste management in North America covered landfill closures and new landfill construction, waste collection and recycling practices. Kutzner's presentation covered various methods used in implementing new construction projects in North America including design, design-build, project and construction management, and various types of contracts used. Greenough's presentation was about APWA—its mission, programs, and methods of communicating with its members.

The SPWA Spring Conference started March 31 with a General Assembly meeting. Greenough brought greetings from our APWA President, Dwayne Kalynchuk, and expressed his regrets for not being able to attend. Kalynchuk has taken a keen interest in this International Collaboration Agreement with SPWA and looked forward to going. An invitation was extended to all those present to attend the APWA Congress September 12-15, 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia. The first presentation by Dr. Ivan Zuzula of the Recycling Foundation reported on the purpose of the Foundation, how it works, activities to date and plans for the future. As most members were involved in waste management, there was much interest in this subject. The APWA members also had a keen interest in this concept. This was followed by the presentations by the three APWA delegates.

In the afternoon, SPWA had invited public works associations in Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic to discuss future collaborations. Representatives attended this meeting from Poland and the Czech Republic with regrets from the Hungarian Association. Peter Benes, SPWA President, opened the meeting by thanking the delegates from the Czech Republic, Poland and APWA for coming to their conference and talking about their relationship with APWA that started in 1998. He indicated that they were very interested in pursuing the work plan that they have with APWA and were receptive to other countries joining in this Collaboration Agreement with them.

Geoff Greenough, on behalf of APWA, confirmed our support for broadening the Collaboration Agreement and extended invitations to all delegates to attend the APWA Congress in Atlanta. It was also suggested that they consider one major European Conference in the spring as it would be preferable to APWA than sending representatives to three or four conferences.

Left to right: Brad Kutzner, Geoff Greenough, Lord Mayor Zdenko Trebula of Kosice, Slovakia, and George Crombie standing in front of the shield of the city.

Franciszek Igielski, Secretary of the Poland Public Works Association, expressed interest in collaborating with APWA. They hosted APWA delegates in 2001, but our conference dates conflict this year. Their Board of Directors will discuss their future involvement and maybe someone will want to participate this fall. He issued an invitation to all those present to their Spring & Fall meetings May 22-24, 2004 and September 15-18, 2004. The Czech Public Works Association was represented by Miloslav Odvarka, President, and he noted that they have a very close relationship with SPWA. Also, they have had representations at the APWA Congresses in Louisville, Philadelphia and San Diego and were looking forward to signing a Collaboration Agreement with APWA the following week at their Annual Meeting in Trebon.

A lighthearted moment during the banquet reception at Michalovce City Hall. From left: CZPWA Vice President Radoslav Nemecek, Geoff Greenough, George Crombie, and a Slovakian accordionist.

The afternoon ended with entertainment by the Slovak Folk Ensemble Zemplin presentation featuring music and dance, both from the local region as well as international. The evening continued with a banquet reception at Michalovce City Hall. There was a magnificent spread of foods for everyone's pallet. The entertainment and camaraderie will long be remembered. Again, the entertainment featured local folklore, three different groups of musicians, and singers where the odd North American accent could be heard.

Prior to the CZPWA Spring Conference, the APWA delegation met with the Board of Directors of their association at a social event on April 4 where they toured a recycling company in Breclav and enjoyed a wine and cheese party in a well-stocked and beautiful wine cellar located on the Austrian border.

During the Spring Conference that started on Thursday, April 8, greetings and best wishes were extended for SPWA by their president, Peter Benes, and by Past President Greenough for APWA. At the end of their business meeting President Miloslav Odvarka's report to the association included their progress in establishing a Collaboration Agreement with APWA, which was followed by the signing of the official Collaboration Agreement. Their president, Miloslav Odvarka, presented Greenough, representing APWA President Kalynchuk, with a tall and beautiful crystal vase with an inscription commemorating the event. This vase will be prominently displayed at APWA Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.

The objectives of the Agreement include participation and presentations at each other's conferences, short-term exchanges to give our members an opportunity to gain international experience and exchange ideas, and to develop a method for CZPWA members to participate in our infoNOW Communities.

After lunch, delegates visited the equipment show with close to one hundred vendors. We recognized a few European vendors from the APWA Congress and one U.S.-based vendor. There were many products of interest, particularly some of their innovations in solid waste collection vehicles, park maintenance equipment, and in the innovative way they use equipment to maximize its use in winter and summer.

Twelve municipalities and public works offices and facilities were visited, and meetings with five Lord Mayors of Czech and Slovak cities highlighted the visit. The meetings with the Lord Mayors began in a ceremonial fashion with the Lord Mayors providing us with a historical background of their communities and their current status. APWA followed with a briefing on the purpose of APWA and our delegation's visit. Invitations were extended to them to join APWA and/or attend our Atlanta Congress. Thereafter, in every case, a more open and frank discussion followed on some of the problems facing their community as well as ours and how we both coped with these issues. Recurring issues centered around high unemployment, public-private partnerships, downloading from senior governments, solid waste and recycling, water and sewerage systems and graffiti. We found we had much in common with them and shared our experiences. While the issues may be common, one must remember that until 1989, all services were provided in these countries by the federal government and there was no local government. Thus, their local government institutions and the people dealing with these issues are relatively new to the process and, next month, they will be joining the European Union. No doubt, while this brings hope, it also brings more change and concerns about the future.

All of the Lord Mayors and many of the agencies we met with presented us with informative and beautiful souvenir books about their city or agency and their history. We also presented them with mementos from our home cities as well as information on APWA, History of Public Works Equipment, and to the Presidents of SPWA and CZPWA a magnificent book entitled Life in America.

In the meetings with their public works agencies, while we learned about their problems, we also learned much from them. Time did not permit us to get too deep into these discussions, but we can bring these ideas to the attention of our public works community; and, through continuing dialogue and discussion, we will find better ways to do our jobs and serve the public. Interesting discoveries worthy of further review are:

  • The recycling programs of the Slovak and Czech Republics, which require the producer or importer of products that require recycling to pay a certain amount per kilogram to a fund to be used by those actually doing the recycling, i.e., the municipalities and private sector partners.

  • Streetlight management systems that can modify the lighting to better match the needs, reducing CO2 emissions and light pollution and save power costs.

  • Cultural policies and programs regarding the preservation of historic buildings, their furnishings and artifacts. The Czech government allocates 0.7 percent of their GNP to this program—42,000 buildings and properties are protected.

  • Various innovations in the manufacture and use of equipment.

  • The ingenious system of ponds which dates back to the 14th Century in Trebon that transformed this region from a natural environment into a so-called secondary natural equilibrium, with an ample spectrum of fauna and flora and peculiar natural areas that make the region interesting. Trebon is an important spa city having acquired this status in 1960, and in 1977 it became a UNESCO biospheric reserve. The mud spa derived from the beds of wetlands peat bogs bases its beneficial effects for locomotive system diseases on mud-bath treatments.

  • Opportunities for public-private ventures as the state government downloads its water and wastewater systems onto local governments.

  • The European Union constitution and policies that go beyond the removal of trade barriers in offering hope to the people of "have not" countries to job mobility over time, and financial grants to these countries to assist them in raising their standard of living to a more uniform level.
APWA delegates were truly impressed with the friendliness of the Czech and Slovakian people and their hospitality. These countries, having a much longer history of civilization than North America, are very rich culturally and have preserved their ancient buildings in their inner cores that date back to the Romanesque Period and through the Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance periods. Many of these structures were built over several centuries and feature architecture of the various periods of their construction. During the Soviet Bloc years from 1948 to 1989, these buildings were largely ignored and fell into serious disrepair. However, since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, both the Czech and Slovak Republics have undertaken major reconstruction and refurbishing of these historical buildings as well as the infrastructure in their historical districts. Geoff Greenough, who had visited Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1998 and again in 2001, was very impressed with the change and improvements over these years. The majority of the inner-city cores have been completely restored or are far along in the process, not only on their exteriors, but their interiors as well. These cities are very impressive. We visited a number of public buildings, parliaments, churches, museums and castles, and the richness of these buildings, the countries' heritage and the importance of it to the people is visible and commendable.

The astronomical clock in the Old Town Hall, Prague, Czech Republic

We also attended a number of cultural events: the opera (Verde's "Aida") in Bratislava; Zemplin folklore; dancing, singing and music in the Michalovce area; musical performances in the Saint Elizabeth Cathedral in Kosice and St. Maurice's Cathedral in Olomouc; and visited many UNESCO monuments and sites including the Kromeriz Gardens and Castle, all of which demonstrated the importance they give of preserving their culture.

No visit to the Czech Republic could be complete without a visit to Prague. We had a one-day walking tour of Prague which started in the Lesser Town of the Wallenstein Palace currently used as the seat of the Senate. We proceeded up the hill to the Castle District which houses the Parliament, the President's home and the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of St. Vitus, passing the United States Embassy on the way. We then visited the Old Town Hall including the astronomical clock and the ancient Charles Bridge with its many monuments. We ended our visit with dinner at the Gallery Kampa where we dined with our host, Dr. Jiri (George) Neuzil, and his parents.

The Gallery Kampa houses the art collection of Jan and Meda Mladek, a gift to the City of Prague. Jan Mladek, a Czechoslovakian citizen now deceased, was one of the first governors of the International Monetary Fund representing Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia. His wife, Meda, a Czech/American, is a very dynamic and influential person in the Czech Arts community who spends half of her time in her Washington home and half at the Gallery. She joined us at our table and helped us understand her work in the arts and told us about the Gallery. We found Jan Mladek's quotation on the face of a building in the courtyard: "If a nation's culture survives, then so too does the nation." When one experiences the spirit and culture of these two countries, there can be no question about their survival and future success.

The delegates that participated in this venture wish to express their heartfelt thanks to both the SPWA and CZPWA for this action-packed agenda, and in particular to the two organizers, Milan Podzuban from Michalovce, Slovakia and George Neuzil from Olomouc, Czech Republic. This effectively became a family affair as their spouses organized a program for our spouses and we all became very close friends.

Submitted by Geoff Greenough, P.Eng., Commissioner of Engineering & Public Works, City of Moncton, New Brunswick; APWA Past President; and Chair, APWA/SPWA Task Force. He can be reached at (506) 853-3527 or at