Tamil Nadu Tour in the wake of Tsunami

Thursday 20 January 2005, by Feroz Mehdi

It was a quiet day, Sunday 26 December. Mornings betwen 8 and 10 am fisherfolks are on the beaches doing business, getting the fish and preparing the boats, spreading the nets on the sand. It being a sunday, they were joined by other folks who had come to the beach for a walk or jogging, young couples for the morning sea breeze.

And then the sea started receding. Slowly it pulled out from under the boats. A rare spectacle which obviously caught the attention of all on the beaches. Some amateur videast filmed it. And then the sea was seen crawling back to the shores it had left. Standing in front of it as it was happening might have been spectacular to begin with, but on the screen it came out as a monstrous reptile crawling towards places it had never been before. It gained force and the high waves slashed down on all in its way. Such a phenomenon is not a part of living human memory. How could one expect people to react. No thundering clouds, no torrential rains, no lightning, no howling winds. No warning. No grandparents had ever told such stories to their children. Now Tsunami is a word of every Indian language. People tell me with eyes wide open as they describe the strength of nature, both the spiritualists and scientists are in awe.

Huts and houses were wiped out, boats tossed and thrown away. Children, women and men swallowed by the raging waves. Many in the coastal area of Tamil Nadu died caught in the nets which were there on the beaches, and many were tossed against solid bricks and rock, those who hid behind the walls or pillars did not know its strength and were buried under. A very large number of families lost their children. Grief could be seen and its silence weighed heavy as I walked between the rubbles of houses and made my way to the relief centre through the graveyard of boats.

My tour started from Chennai, the capital city of the province of Tamil Nadu. There I met Mr. M.A. Devdas, office coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF) and then with the Director of an NGO called AID India (Action for India’s Development). The groups associated with the CPM and the All India Peoples Science Movement have reached a strategic alliance with AID by implementing relief measures and taking up mid and long term rehabilitation work. While the material purchase and construction is done by AID, the human power is provided by over a thousand volunteers of the AIPSN, SFI (Students Federation of India), DYFI (Democratic Youth Federation of India), AIDWA (All India Democratic Women’s Association) and TNSF itself.

I visited 4 villages in the district of Cuddalore which is on the coastal area of Tamil Nadu, south of Chennai. The volunteer camps were all running very efficiently, the posts were manned by them round the clock. Coordination of getting supplies from the city centres to district centres and from there to the affected villages was was being done with schedules disccused in daily briefings with the workers on the field. Several volunteers were given the task of house to house survey to assess the material and human loss and to come up with the map of each village before and after Tsunami.

All coordination of the relief operations were done by Collectors (Administrative officer) of the districts. According to our comrades the government was doing a very good job of coordination. In criticizing some ‘stars’ and NGOs who came to ‘adopt’ a village, our friends were emphasizing the role and responsibilities of the government. By and large the cooperation between government, NGOs and peoples organizations was good and efficient.

After the immediate relief operations our partner organizations are preparing to engage in construction and provision of temporary shelters till land can be negotiated for the permanent ones, facilitating purchase of fishing nets and repairing boat engines. Thus starting the income generation activities is a priority. The fisherfolks in the affected region are not poverty stricken people. In fact they were a well to do fishing community. This could be seen from the number of concrete houses, paved and well maintained roads in the interior villages and the growth of related economy. People were quite angry and insulted if they received used or torn clothes!

Then there is a necessity of starting schools for children and trauma counseling. A couple of them have been started but in mid and long term this should be the emphasis. Thus the second level relief involves construction of huts and houses and addressing health needs. The third level intervention and relief will be addressing livelihood needs, forming cooperatives and providing livelihood support like boats, nets etc.

The Structure of the Relief operations can be seen from the Report prepared by AID India entitled “Tsunami Relief Work in TN- A Report”. A copy of this first report is with Michel and PB.

À propos de Feroz Mehdi

General Secretary, Alternatives International *

Feroz Mehdi is one of the founder member of Alternatives. He has been working on projects related to the countries in South Asia. He has also been working in education programs in Quebec and Canada organizing conferences and contributing to publication of newsletters and other documents of analysis and information.

Since 2007 he has taken the job as General Secretary of Alternatives International. The federation of AlterInter has 9 member organizations from Canada, France, Brazil, Israel, Palestine, South Africa, Niger, India and Morocco and its Secretariat is in Montreal.

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