Post Tsunami: Waves of Neglect
Cuddalore, India: The tsunami of December 26, 2004
left an estimated 8,010 dead and 3,432 injured in the southern Indian
state of Tamil Nadu. The damage as a direct result of the waves, according
to a United Nations-Asian Development Bank-World Bank Joint Assessment
Mission is US$ 437.8 million, and the livelihood loss is estimated
at US$ 377.2 million, amounting to a total of a stupendous US$ 815
For the survivors, worse was to follow. Almost a million people (984,000)
in 12 districts have become refugees in their own villages, still
living in makeshift shelters.
After the tsunami waves receded, the bureaucratic leviathans and an
army of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were the next to invade,
initially at a loss about how to handle the situation. And as 18 weeks
post-tsunami draw to an end, the gaps in relief and rehabilitation
Non-Fisher Communities Marginalized
In their hurry to get relief going, both government agencies and NGOs
initially targeted primarily the fishing communities for distributing
welfare. Even as the government officially closed relief in April
2005, the Dalits (former untouchables), Adivasis (indigenous peoples),
people involved in fishing-allied trades and women may not have received
their legitimate share of relief.
Thirty-eight year old Uma Krishnamoorthy was knee deep in the water
when the tsunami washed over the backwaters near her village of Periyar
Nagar Dalit colony in Cuddalore district, 260 km from Chennai. The
clam collector had to struggle to swim to safety. Though alive, she
is now devastated, unsure whether people like her - involved in non-fishing
activities - will find succor.
Not more than 10 years ago Uma was a well-to-do weaver. Once the handloom
industry went bust, she, like other women in her micro credit group
took to harvesting clams for a livelihood. "At high tide, when the
sea enters the backwaters, we wade in to chest-high water. With bare
hands, we grope in the sand bed for clams. Agents from big companies
used to buy shelled mussels at Rs. 5 (US$ 0.10) per bowl. A team of
three women made Rs. 100 (US$ 2.5) on a good day," she says.
Even that backbreaking work would have been heaven-sent because Uma
and others have not returned to work since. "First there is the fear,
we have to pass through the graves of those killed in the tsunami
and then there is the government ban on clam collection." The ban
has been in force for the last two months, due to the risk of contamination
from the dead bodies in the backwaters.
Uma wonders where her family's next meal will come from. Her husband
worked in a clam processing unit that has not re-opened after the
tsunami. They now depend on the eldest daughter who brings home Rs.
25 (US$ 0.60) a day washing and chemically treating clam shells imported
from neighboring Andhra Pradesh and other southern districts of Tamil
Nadu like Ramanathapuram that were not affected by the tsunami. "We
have sent three petitions to the district Collectorate seeking help.
We have protested, but the fishermen's demands have been given precedence.
It was almost February when we first got the compensation of Rs. 2,000
(US$ 50) for livelihood loss and 30 kilos of rice," says Uma.
No Relief in the Camps
Even in the early phase of the relief operations, Dalits and Irulars
(a hunting-gathering tribe) across the districts of Nagapattinam,
Cuddalore and Chennai had to move out of the temporary shelters. Caste
clashes broke out as the fisher communities tried to establish their
primacy in accessing relief.
In Srinivasapuram in Chennai, the Dalits who lived in rented shacks
on the Marina beach were forcibly moved to Tsunami Nagar, Okkiyam
Thoraipakkam (on slum clearance board land 20 km from the city) after
quarrels broke out in the temporary camps. In Karikattukuppam (45
km south of Chennai), Irulars who lived off fishing in the backwaters
and supplying rats and other prey to the nearby crocodile bank were
forced out after fishermen started barricading relief because they
were not coast dwellers.
The Irulars of Sangolikuppam in Cuddalore taluk, were not coast dwellers
either, their homes linked to the backwaters by a brook. (Cuddalore
lies in the delta region of Rivers Cauvery and Kollidam and smallish
backwaters run every other kilometer on the coast.) Of the 161 families
in the tribal part of the town, nearly 31 had catamarans.
Perumal, the community leader, says the tribe members used to leave
at dawn to a semi-permanent dock in the backwaters, to fish inland.
"When we were sent out of the community forests (in the early 1980s
after the passing of the Protection of Forests Act (1979)) and forbidden
from hunting animals, we turned to fishing. Our neighbors then had
no problem with sharing the waters," he says.
That camaraderie is gone after the tsunami, with competition over
relief assistance. Sangolikuppam's Irulars were first pushed out of
the relief camp. And because their homes were tucked into a tribal
outpost, it was on the threshold of starvation that Sarpam, a national
organization for Irulars, found them.
Who is Worthy of Aid?
The categorization of communities that need assistance in relief and
rehabilitation is based on a superficial understanding of who suffered
damage. Take the case of Kalaignar Nagar and MGR Nagar abutting the
Pichavaram Lake in Cuddalore. As of date, 58 families (around 250
people) of Irulars are yet to receive any relief or assistance, as
it is assumed that they did not suffer any damage.
The Irulars' fishing society president T Kaliappan says that only
after repeated petitioning did the district officials include them
in the list of those indirectly affected. While today, these villagers
receive relief (Rs. 1,000 (US$ 25) and 10 kg of rice per month), they
have to share it with the families left out of the relief net. "A
few of our tribe spread across the coastal region of the district
got seasonal employment in trawlers when labor was required during
peak shrimp season (between January and April). After the plantations
they worked in were destroyed by the waves their employers have turned
them out. Without help from the government they will starve," says
R Jayaraman, member of the Cuddalore Irular Fishing Society.
Siddamma of Bharti Trust, an umbrella organization for tribal welfare,
says the story repeats itself in tribal villages. "In Shanmuga Nagar,
Sami Nagar and other towns around Pichavaram backwaters, NGOs were
handling a majority of the relief work as the government was reluctant
to provide aid to communities that did not see any deaths. But their
livelihoods have been hit and groups that live on subsistence incomes
should be treated on par as far as compensation for livelihood loss
goes," she says.
Bharti Trust and others have been demanding a fresh count of population
affected by tsunami based on occupation, to ensure that relief reaches
everyone. According to Sarpam livelihoods of nearly 104 families in
Cuddalore and 123 families in Thiruvallur districts have been affected
but the government has officially closed the relief phase in early
April, declaring that all the affected had been given relief packages.
District-level bureaucrats, however, say that Dalits or Adivasis being
left out of the relief net is an aberration. "Whenever we have received
information of communities without relief, we have made arrangements
to extend compensation. Nearly 85 Dalit villages have been identified
where there has been partial damage. The government has asked NGOs
to report any other village that has been left out of the relief net,"
says J Radhakrishnan, Nagapattinam district collector.
"In fishing hamlets, there is a sizeable population of other communities
affected. They work in fishing-allied industries, doing carpentry
for boats or repairing nets. Even the barber of the village belongs
to a non-fishing community. It is here that one can clearly see the
strength of the fisherfolks' traditional panchayat (village council),
which can bargain with the government," says Pondicherry-based Ko
Sukumaran, Secretary, Federation for People's Rights.
Short Sighted Donor Assistance
Lobbying will undoubtedly have to be stepped up, because after the
initial phase of relief, the Dalits and marginalized communities might
have even less coming their way because they are not a very powerful
lobby. And this time the Indian Government may have even less say
in the rehabilitation allocations. International Finance Institutions
such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), as well
as the United Nations and its special agency International Fund for
Agriculture Development (IFAD) are going to pump in around US$ 850
million for rebuilding. The money from the IFAD alone is US$ 15 million
and that alone would be used for agriculture. The World Bank allocation
is for infrastructure, fisheries, etc. and the ADB allocation of US$
200 million for livelihood and agriculture reconstruction.
In the US$ 682.8 million Emergency Tsunami Reconstruction Project,
the International Donor Association has promised US$ 465.0 million
and the Government of India will contribute US$ 18.6 million. Of this,
Civil Society Organizations and the government anticipate four-fifths
will be spent on the fisher community, after the World Bank in its
statement on May 3, 2005 said that nearly 80 percent of the affected
population was engaged in fisheries, 15 percent in agriculture and
5 percent in micro-enterprises. This is in direct conflict with the
report entitled "Post Tsunami Recovery Program: Preliminary Damage
and Needs Assessment" that the team of the three international agencies
published, which said only 39 percent of the population affected are
The same report pegs the number of fisherfolk affected at 120,000
in Tamil Nadu. Those involved in agriculture, micro-enterprises and
other employment were 380,000. The report adds: "that for every person
directly employed in fisheries, four other persons were dependent
on downstream employment (such as cleaning the fish, marketing it,
boat repair, transport of ice, etc)." But the damage incurred by the
fisheries sector stood at US$ 184.2 million out of a total of US$
Ask the government if these numbers as far as the damage goes and
the fund allocation that followed were accurate: the answer is a vague
"It should be. The assessment is based on numbers that the government
has made available. So we will rather work with what is allotted,"
say top bureaucrats working on rehabilitation and relief.
The result? Seriously lopsided allocations. The Environmental and
Social Management Framework of the World Bank pins the funding for
restoration of livelihoods at US$ 36.4 million (about 5 percent of
the total) as compared to US$ 596.8 million, (about 87.5 percent of
the total) to be spent on housing. While this is the case with the
World Bank, a strategy is yet to be evolved about what the government
intends to do with the 50 percent loan-50 percent grant it is to receive
There is a veil of secrecy about how this money will be disbursed
and the government expects the plan to be ready only after six months.
Community organizations are now left wondering if they will be excluded
from the livelihood rehabilitation planning as they had been left
out of the talks between the government and International Donor Association
about the quantum of funds. "It is as if the government is in secret
talks. There is no transparency about the funding. The NGOs and the
stakeholders in talks have been left out by the government though
that was the mandate when the Government of India first invited the
three institutions," says an activist from Human Rights Foundation,
a Chennai-based NGO.
The other schemes of the government for short-term rehabilitation,
such as "Food for Work" and "Cash for Work" are also flawed. At a
recent public hearing on food security, organized by People's Union
for Civil Liberties and Action Aid, the agricultural laborers of Nagapattinam
(mostly Dalits) said they had been asked to identify suitable work
and approach the district administration with the proposal. On one-level
this meant identification of work for which the laborers had the skill
sets, at another it meant all the more bureaucracy. And all this for
a wage Rs 15 (US$ 0.37) per day and seven kilos of rice, says Clifton
Rosario of the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, who has been working
in the area.
While the government fumbles, the likes of Kalyani Mariappan, of MGR
Nagar near Pichavaram Lake have started fending for themselves, knitting
nets. "During the scheme to rejuvenate Pichavaram lake, we were organized
into groups and Village Development and Mangrove Councils by the M
S Swaminathan Research Foundation and the Forest Department. Fishing
in the backwaters will be an imperative part of our lives; but we
are also lobbying for funds to lease agricultural land so that there
will be something to fall back on," she says.
Echoing this view is Uma Krishnamoorthy of Periyar Nagar Dalit colony:
"Our SHG has been given skills to add value to the shells that are
otherwise sold in bulk to cement factories. If only somebody would
invest Rs. 200,000 (US$ 5,000), we could make craft items and sell
in the towns," she says.
Processes of rebuilding from tragic disasters such as the tsunami
can provide opportunities to change the socio-economic dynamics among
marginalized communities. But the rest of us will have to wait for
another six months before the government will tell us whether they
will do just that.
The Female Face of Death
The differential impact of natural disasters may be rather "unnatural", influenced by social and gender roles. Shocking statistics on gender differences in deaths have emerged from post-tsunami studies. The figures are stark. According to a study by aid agency Oxfam International, up to four times as many females as males may have been killed in the tsunami.
In Indonesia, in four villages in the Aceh Besar district, out of 676 survivors only 189 were females. Male survivors outnumbered female survivors by almost 3 to 1. In four villages in North Aceh District, females accounted for 77 percent of deaths in these villages. In the worst affected village, Kuala Cangkoy, for every one male that died, four females died, or in other words, 80 percent of deaths were female.
In India, in Cuddalore district, the second most affected district in the country, almost three times more women were killed than men, with 391 women killed, compared to 146 men. In Pachaankuppam village the only deaths were those of women.
In Sri Lanka too, information from camp surveys suggests a serious imbalance between the number of men and women killed.
The findings of the Oxfam study have been borne out by NGOs working in Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The higher death toll among women can be linked to women's role as nurturers, their traditional clothing which hinders mobility, as well as their inability to run and swim fast. In particular, more seem to have been killed because:
For the women survivors, life is grim. Organizations active in the post-tsunami scene have found that in addition to the trauma of losing their loved ones, injury and the loss of their homes and livelihoods, women experience the additional hazard of verbal and physical harassment by men in camps and settlements and sexual abuse in the packed resettlement sites, particularly in and around toilets. Due to their vulnerability, women are already being pressured into early marriages. Women's special health needs are not being adequately addressed, with women being prone to reproductive tract and urinary infections due to non-availability of adequate supplies of water and sanitation.
Additionally, women are being hit by the loss of income and inability to access cash, with some women at risk of sexual exploitation and dependency - a pattern that can be difficult to break. Widows in Nagapattinam have rarely been allotted separate shelters. Instead, they have been made to live with relatives, whose main interest is the compensation money. Moreover, the rehabilitation packages do not adequately assess the needs of women-headed household, which account for as many as 40 percent of families in the area.
Activists say that there is need to tackle these issues by prioritizing the protection of women from sexual violence and exploitation, particularly in the camps and including a gender dimension to all efforts at relief and rehabilitation, especially the rebuilding of sustainable livelihoods. There is also need to recognize women's work. For instance, the majority of women in the fishing community were involved in the marketing of fish, processing the surplus catch and collection activities on the shore. According to a report prepared by Sneha, an NGO working with women in the area, the work of women is not recognized by the state and community. One of their recommendations to the state government is to extend worker status to women.
Unless women's needs are looked into and incorporated into the rehabilitation policies, women trying to rebuild their lives have a long struggle ahead.
For the full Oxfam report see http://www.oxfam.org.uk
- Women stayed behind to look for their children and the elderly when the wave hit, or were frantically continuing to search for their children when the second wave hit.
- Women were less likely to know how to swim or climb palm trees.
- Women's traditional clothing in some cases might have hindered their movement as they tried to run and climb to higher ground.
- In Aceh women have a high level of participation in the labor force, but the wave struck on a Sunday when they were at home and the men were out running errands, or were out at sea (where the waves were less ferocious) or working in the fields.
- Women in India, who are engaged in fish processing, were close to the shore waiting for the fishermen to come in with the catch.
- In Sri Lanka in Batticoloa District when the tsunami hit, it was the hour women on the east coast usually took their baths in the sea.
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