Tsunami – Many Options for Donors

I visited some of the Tsunami affected areas in Kerala & Tamil Nadu. In this brief note I will attempt to provide some thoughts as to how genuine donrs can help the victims of this great tragedy.

At first let me first give you a brief overview of what I saw.

At first I went to a fishing community at the seacoast near Shertallai ( Alleppey Dist.) called Anthakaranazhi (read as Antha Kara Na Azhi). Ms. Florence accompanied me. She is a Professor at a local college in Shertallai and is currently doing her PhD on Fishing Community Property Rights and Coastal Natural Assets. This college preferentially admits students from the fishing community who pursue higher education. There were fewer deaths at this location although the damage to property is immense. I met about 5 people who were directly affected by the tragedy and visited their ravaged homes. The sights were painful. One of them saved the lives of two women who he saw were being dragged in by the sea. He used his fishing net and caught them. If he had not done this he could have saved his expensive boat, which in the meantime was swallowed by the sea as if in vengeance. His reward? He cited a sense of relief that he could save two lives and with a sense of gratitude said “They covered me in the local language newspaper”. Comparatively this area seems to have little attention and sympathy when weighed against the loss of life and property in other parts of Kerala (particularly in Qulin District). I suppose this is a natural fall out when we make comparisons. These people also need help.

Then I visited the most raved Quilon District. The Quilon District Collector Mr. B. Srinivas was useful in giving me directions. I went into a relief camp where about 90 families (about 290 people) were housed. A local school was the shelter for these unfortunate people. In my conversations with many of them, I was stunned to learn that a lot of them were educated, many even post graduates. They took to the sea as their fathers and forefathers were fishermen and more poignantly, they could not get suitable employment after their college education. One of them, B.Bidhu offered to come with me to the ravaged seacoast. Incidentally Bidhu is an M.Com & B.Ed and is working as a temporary teacher at a local government higher secondary school. He also goes to the sea with his father and brothers.

He took me to Ward No. 4 of the Alappad Panchayath. This place called Azhikkal (pronounced as Azhi kkal) saw 90 cruel deaths. As I walked through the seacoast towards a temporary cremation ground I saw heartrending scenes of destruction, annihilation, demolition and devastation of a community that was once eking out a living at the mercy of a bountiful sea. These were once people who were contributing their mite to the coastal economy of this country. None of us knew them or even wanted to know about them, but strange are the ways of providence that many now want to reach out to them. There were 90 urns of the mortal remains of men, women and children. It was a gruesome sight in the midst of ravaged and desolate seashore. Damage to property is phenomenal. Roads have been sliced, concrete houses have been ripped apart, huge rocks, each weighing some 200 to 300 kgs which were once part of the sea wall have been literally lifted by the waves and thrown some 50 meters into the land, old and tall coconut trees which once were caressed by the sea breeze, were simply uprooted baring their aged roots and thrown away onto what was once the roof tops of some homes. The fury of Tsunami has left permanent scars on the people and the seashore.

Then I went to Cuddalore (Tamil Nadu). Ravi Shanker, a professional colleague and a good friend from Chennai accompanied me on this trip. We got help from Shasun Chemicals after we spoke to Mr. Abhaya Kumar. They have also done some commendable work. The scenes there were also very disturbing. In Tamil Nadu as in Kerala too the most affected have been children.
At the government level, there are several measures being taken including help in rehabilitation. Then there are private agencies like the institutions of Matha Amrithanandha that are providing food and temporary shelters to the affected families. Matha Amritha Ashram has promised a Rs.100 Crore fund (about US $23 million) to help these people in Kerala, Andhra & Tamil Nadu. Then there are several NGOs doing many similar things in their own small ways. There is apprehension amongst many of the affected people that I talked to that when funds are channeled through government, not all are equally benefited or the chances of pilferage are more.

Now let us try to understand what we can do to the change the lives of the survivors of this catastrophic fury of Kadal Amma (the Goddess of Sea) (Kadal means Sea and Amma means Mother).

John Kurien & Antonyto Paul of the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum have published several working papers as part of detailed study that they undertook for the International Collective in Support of Fish workers (ISF). I have read their studies with interest and quote the following information from their work: –

* In small fishing communities, earning a livelihood is both risky and uncertain .

* One’s individual income is almost always a share of the collective earnings of a group of people who go to the sea together.

* What a fisherman could bring home will depend on his share of the labor of the specific fishing trip or his overall share (if he has contributed to the capital) in the capital of their joint venture.

* Harvest from the Sea is a fluctuating fortune and therefore the daily income of these people is also very unpredictable and irregular sometimes even below daily subsistence requirements. Sometimes, it can also yield windfalls that are excessively out of comparison.

* When the sea is bountiful, there are private transfers of income. Self interested individuals or households in a risky environment may use current generosity to ensure a future reciprocity. These transfers are sometimes beyond the realm of narrow self-interest.

* Modern fisheries development process has contributed to a decline of the levels of caring and sharing which had once characterized the low level economic equilibrium of these communities.

* Due to severe commercialization, many of the community conceived safety nets have become casualties of this process.

* Due to this many fishing communities in developing countries, is caught in between the rich fishery resources that contribute huge amounts of foreign exchange to national coffers with poor fish workers that labor to provide it.

* Devising the appropriate and cost effective transfer mechanisms for support led social security to these communities is an issue that merits attention.

What also require close attention is: Habitat & Housing, Sanitation & Health, Literacy & Education and Safety at sea. (In a state like Kerala where literacy rates are the highest, statistics indicate that one fisherman dies at sea in Kerala once in about four days!)

If we need to do anything different then we need to think “ How to Change their World” (If you get time please read David Bornstein’s book). Financing these prohibitively expensive productive assets is beyond the means of this shattered and fragmented community who now dread to go to the sea.

Their primary productive assets are the boats and fishing nets. Some of these can cost as much as Rs. 2 to 3 million for a boat and a set of fishing nets i.e. As much as US Dollars 45,000 to 65,000 each. These boats fitted with inboard engines can carry as many as 30 to 40 people. Then there the fiberglass boats with relatively smaller fishing gear and an outboard engine (Yamaha) which all can cost about Rs. 250,000 (US $ 5555) each. These fiberglass boats can take about 5 to 7 people.

So what are various options or alternatives that serious donors have?

1. Join the many who have come forward to provide shelters. (These are now temporary shelters) The other is to offer help in repairing damaged shelters. These are done by many organizations including the State(s). It is unlike the situation Bhuj where some companies helped to build dwellings. For example, the Matha Amrata Ashram built thousands of dwelling houses for the fishermen on the seacoast some years ago. Almost all of them were washed away. A section of the press and public are saying that the buildings were not constructed properly. The Ashram has not reacted but had to say that even Govt. built houses have been washed away. Again, most of these dwellings, it is reported, have been built in violation of the norms i.e. not following the statutory setbacks for coastal houses. In the absence of clarity and the possibility that the rules will be enforced now makes this area of intervention a bit tricky and is perhaps best left to the Govt.

2. Offer a part of the Donor Funds say about 10% to provide books, stationery, medicines etc. for immediate relief through some recognized NGO or if we can identify needy communities directly distribute these to the affected people.

3. Identify Orphanages that house Tsunami Orphans and fund their education. The problem here is many of the Orphanages I visited are reluctant to treat the Tsunami Orphans different from other orphans. Therefore the contributions will go to augment the resources of the Orphanages, which is a good deed. My friend Ravi Shaker & myself visited a Destitute Home in Cuddalore. It had a few Tsunami affected women who have since returned to their villages. This government run Sevai Illam is doing wonderful work.

4. If the donors have say some 15 million rupees then the can help buy about 60 fiberglass boats and the necessary fishing gear and give them away to selected people. This can help about 400 families. (These boats can take up to 7 people per boat) We may help them form as many JVs as there are boats and legally bind them. Alternatively we can enter into an arrangement with a bank or two and provide this entire 15 million rupees as interest subsidy so that the banks can lend Rs.2,500,000 to each of the JVs at an interest rate of 4 to 5% p.a. This can reach more than 60 JVs.

5. Options 2 and 4 can be supplemented by the donor investing time to do something innovative for this community. The donor can choose a consulting firm who can partner with say some one like Mr. John Kurien (he is a well known authority on Marine Fisheries) and help do research on the Coastal Economy and publish papers and help governments (state) implement policies that will foster the growth of the coastal economy. (For e.g. Policies that will help free this community from the clutches of middlemen and private financiers or a marketing arrangement that will help the community realize better prices for their produce etc.etc) These initiatives may be viewed by the Government and the Society as path breaking ideas. The consultants may perhaps look at investing consulting time worth say Rs. 5 Million. (Like many FMCG Companies distributing itheir own products worth many millions)

6. Kerala is perhaps the only state where the social security for the fisheries sector works, notwithstanding inefficiencies. The number of schemes in place touch the lives of fish workers and their families from birth to death and match the requirements of ILO. This is not an achievement of the State. It is in fact a tribute to the effectiveness of the collective action by the fishermen who pushed the State to enhance the resource flows for social security and initiate and strengthen the organizational apparatus for its delivery says John Kurien. May be we could help other states emulate the example of Kerala for providing social security measures.


A Relief camp

Tsunami Ravaged Azheekkal, 4th Ward,
Alappad Panchayat, Karunagapally, Quilon Dist, Kerala

No. of Dead : 90

No. of people dislocated at a Rehabilitation Camp visited by VVR : 290 people who had lost everything.

This Coastal Community is highly literate & many of the fisher men are graduates. Their standard of living as could be gauged from the remnants of the destroyed homes was good.


Bidhu -My guide







young lives buried onshore

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