Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The Tsunami reconstruction: Rebuilding lives in tamil nadu

Until December 26, 2004, “tsunami” was a term unheard of in the common lexicon along the long coast of Tamil Nadu. Today, even the unlettered utter the word often, with awe.

The giant waves that shook the coastlines of Asia on that day left behind a trail of destruction of epic proportions. Reconstruction and rehabilitation required an equally massive effort. For over three years, government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) launched rehabilitation projects, with a huge flow of funds from national and international agencies.

The spontaneous response for relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts from NGOs and donor agencies has few parallels. With nearly 2.5 lakh affected people being taken to temporary shelters in Nagapattinam and Cuddalore districts in the first six months, the coordinated relief measures prevented any outbreak of water-borne diseases, which in itself is considered an achievement.

On the fourth anniversary of the black day, as one looks back on the amount of work that has been done, there are several lessons to be learnt from the efforts made for disaster mitigation, capacity building, reconstruction, habitat development, community participation and ecological protection. The good practices that have emerged could be replicated elsewhere and the pitfalls avoided.

“The lessons are important to inform government policies on housing, disaster mitigation and approaches to pro-poor and equitable infrastructure,” says Pieter Bult, Deputy Country Director, United Nations Development Programme, India, in the foreword to the UNDP document “Tsunami – Lessons for Habitat Development”. The document lists out a series of case studies in the post-tsunami reconstruction scenario. Stakeholders should study the aspects of people-centric planning, environment friendly options and focus on a habitat development approach while designing and implementing development and reconstruction plans, he adds.

The control exercised by the government over the activity of building permanent shelters, in terms of site selection, allocation of villages and setting of specifications, has been welcomed by many agencies.

“The public-private partnership initiative in building permanent shelters has proved to be a successful model,” says R. Bhakther Solomon, chief executive officer of the NGO, Development Promotion Group (DPG). However, cost escalation has been one of the factors that these NGOs have had to contend with.

The DPG was one of the NGOs involved in immediate relief efforts and, subsequently, in long-term reconstruction initiatives. It built 822 houses in Vilunthamavadi, Kameshwaram, Vanavanmahadevi and Vellappallem in Nagapattinam district and Keela Tiruchendur and Mappillaioorani in Tuticorin district. The organisation also built several temporary shelters and community halls in several villages. It also focussed on the sustainable development of the affected communities.

“The first task was to organise the victim communities into self-reliant self-help groups [SHGs] to inculcate in them the habit of saving, thereby preventing exploitation of the victims by moneylenders,” says Solomon.

Getting the affected communities back into their original professions meant making available substantial resources in the form of new equipment for fisherfolk and rehabilitation of land in the case of farmers. To this end, the DPG organised the distribution of fibre glass boats, engines and nets to fishermen.

Another task taken up simultaneously was providing alternative means of livelihood, which meant giving skills training to different groups in the community.

The biggest challenge was the attitude of the victims, who, seeing the huge volume of relief resources pouring in, developed a “dependence mentality”, observes Solomon.

To overcome this problem, the organisation promoted several income-generating projects and vocational/ skill-development centres in various villages.

- Frontline

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