When the tsunami hit some inland villages in the Nagappattinam area of India, it didn’t destroy homes or take lives as it did in the more coastal areas. Instead, in villages composed of inland fishermen and farmers, the tsunami took away people’s livelihoods. It destroyed inland fishing areas and covered farmland with more than a foot of sand.
Now, Christian Children’s Fund is working with local organizations, farmers and fishermen, to take back what was theirs … a way to make a living to support their families. The area in question runs from Nagappattinam to Vedaranyam — a 20-mile stretch in the state of Tamil Nadu.
In reclaiming farmland, CCF and villagers have to work quickly. They have only three months to remove the sand before the rainy season comes and the salt leaches into the soil, destroying the possibility for future crop farming or rice paddies. And so within the next three months, CCF will help farmers scoop out the sand deposited by the tsunami and carry it back out to fortify the beaches. CCF will be launching this program as part of a livelihood restoration project, using a grant from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), matched by funds from CCF contributors.
“We have dug down one foot, and still have not found the vegetation layer. So, this is going to be a big job,” said Dola Mohapatra, national director of CCF-India. “And we don’t have much time in which to do it. One village — the village of Vilunthamavadi — is covered in sand. You’d never know there was ever a rice field there. It is all under beach sand, now. We have a really bad economic situation here,” Mohapatra continued.
The problem of working with inland fishermen is more difficult. In some cases, inland fishing sources can be restored. In other cases, CCF will work with the local communities to provide vocational training, so that former inland fishermen can be trained as carpenters and mechanics who can repair boats and boat motors.
“There is a lot of need right now for these two skills. With some training, people will be able to make a living again … still working with their hands in a related industry,” said Mohapatra.
“For tsunami victims on the coast, fishermen will go back to the sea once they get their nets, boats and gear replaced or repaired. And they certainly need support to do that. However, for these men, who were dependent on inland fishing or small scale farming, nothing is left. They have nothing to fall back on. The situation is grievous because if the sand is not removed quickly, the salinity will go into the soil, and then the farmland is gone forever.”
CCF’s livelihood restoration project will assist 9,400 families in 40 villages. In addition to the land reclamation and vocational training, CCF’s livelihoods program will support repair or restoration of fishing gear and other accessories, reactivation of market and trading linkages, and will provide low interest loans and other resources for small businesses/trades.
Helping people recapture their livelihoods in these inland villages is especially important because they are considered “underserved” populations. Since they did not lose homes or household possessions, they weren’t considered among the most vulnerable in need of immediate government assistance. But to the contrary, these farmers and fishermen lost their very means for making a living when the tsunami snatched their livelihoods out from under them.
And in addition to the tsunami's cruelty, most of these small farmers and inland fishermen are Dalits, considered the “untouchable caste,” which means there will not be many alternative economic opportunities or social interventions available to them.
“Even though these are economic victims of the tsunami, they are considered indirect victims by the government. And so, they are not on the list of those needing immediate help. In some of these villages, like Pudhupalli, CCF is the only aid organization present. However, assistance is critically needed; if they don’t get assistance, they won’t be able to survive,” concluded Mohapatra.