A Salvation Army assessment team meets local people on a beach where the tsunami hit
Children will have the opportunity for an education if the Salvation Army projects are successful
Fishermen inspect their boats for damage
A Salvation Army representative speaks to the people to find out their needs
The salt pans which were hit by the tsunami
Article compiled from project proposals and in conversation
A Shore Thing
The Indian Ocean tsunami had a catastrophic impact on the livelihoods of fishing communities all along the east coast of India. The Andhra Pradesh coastline north of Chennai (formerly known as Madras) was not as badly affected as the Tamil Nadu coast but, because it was comparatively lightly hit, it has received little assistance. Even so, local fishermen indicate that, from conversations with neighbouring communities, 64 villages lost their entire fleet.
The Government of India initially responded to the communities with 10-25 kilograms of rice per family but assistance to the area now consists of uncoordinated and intermittent food deliveries by charities from nearby towns. Each village mentioned food was the immediate priority.
One major problem is that the period from December to late February is the prime time for fishing. Fishing is banned for three months beginning in March to allow fish hatchlings to survive. Even if boats and nets can be replaced straight away, the fishermen will have six months in which they cannot work. On average, families in fishing communities survive on an annual income of 25,000 rupees (US$580) – some 13,000 rupees below the Government’s official poverty line. Many are trapped in a cycle of debt already and are borrowing from moneylenders who charge high rates of interest. The tsunami has made a bad situation worse.
The problems with the fishing industry don’t only affect the fishermen and their families. The Salvation Army project team identified numerous related industries which have also been brought to a grinding halt. The secondary industries are largely women-owned or owned by the poorest of the poor, usually selling fish on to local markets. Day labourers on the boats have also been overlooked by donors and relief agencies because they are only on the edge of the fishing industry.
A small group of lime kiln workers approached the Salvation Army assessment team to ask for help. These people, from the scheduled caste – the ‘untouchables’ – are extremely poor, even compared to the poverty-stricken fishing community they live near. Because of the caste system which still holds sway in much of India they are forbidden from many areas of society and must find ways to scratch a living.
The group that approached the assessment team had found a way to harvest seashells which they then burned for the lime used during religious festivals to ward off evil. The tsunami destroyed their livelihood because the shells were washed off the beaches and out to sea.
Salvation Army International Development (UK) team member Howard Dalziel, who visited the area to put together a funding proposal, sees people such as the lime kiln workers as part of The Salvation Army’s core focus. ‘Working with the marginalised has always been a focus for the Army,’ he says. ‘The tsunami has had its greatest effects on people on the fringes of society. We can make a huge difference in the lives of these people.’
In the fishing villages, The Salvation Army has put together a project which will see the inhabitants’ immediate needs met and, just as importantly, will enable their long-term prospects to be better than before the tsunami struck. It seems a brutal thing to say but, for many of the survivors, the tsunami has been a catalyst for good. Funding provided by the public in response to the tsunami will enable projects to be put in place that could not have been afforded before.
The initial stage of the project will operate simultaneously with a supplementary feeding programme. A total of 186 boats need to be repaired and an additional 62 need replacing. The SalvationArmy will work closely with the Department of Fisheries to identify reliable suppliers as well as for expertise on nets, environmental impact review and to avoid duplication of activities.
More than 100 sets of extra nets will also be provided, benefiting the workers who hire themselves – and their nets – to fishing crews.
Several communities have existing self-help associations of up to 20 families that were established by the Government of India in the late 1970s. These groups have a good track record of loan repayments and community development. In communities with no groups, The Salvation Army will work with district officers and village development officers to assist women in developing self-help groups using the Government of India’s model.
The target project population is the fishermen who live within 500 metres of the high tide to protect their boats and carry out centuries’ old beach-based fishing. Before the tsunami struck they lived close to the sea for expediency and for the security of their considerable investment in nets and boats. They are intertwined with similar fishing communities along the coastline from Chennai to Machillipatnam, some 450 kilometres to the north. Sales of fish and fish products link the population to the interior through a considerable network of middlemen and traders.
The main part of the project – funded and administered by a partnership between The Salvation Army’s UK Territory, the USA’s Salvation Army World Services Office (SAWSO), the Canada and Bermuda Territory, the India Central Territory and the Government of India – will entail a large-scale construction scheme. It is estimated that 500 houses will be built over the next two years.
Even the reconstruction programme will provide more than housing. The ‘cash-for- work’ principle, through which people are given materials and training before being paid to build their own houses, has many benefits. People don’t lose out by not being able to do their usual job while construction is taking place and – just as importantly – they keep their dignity by knowing they are playing a huge role in improving their own lives.
The project area will focus on eight villages over a wide area on the coastal belt of the Bay of Bengal, bringing massive benefits to anything up to 20,000 people. The programme will focus on the least assisted villages first and expand to other villages in the second year of the project. This means the activities will cover the 450 kilometres from Chennai to Machillipatnam.
Consultation has been carried out to ensure women and children have a voice and that those on the margins of the community have their needs met. Social workers and development officers will work with people like the lime kiln workers to help them diversify and find new, more effective, ways of earning a living.
Another project along the coast will help 347 families in Iskapelli village, Andhra Pradesh, who make their living on salt pans. Again, the villagers are from the scheduled caste and so are very limited in regard to what they can do for a living.
The tsunami caused major damage to the salt pans, breaking the bund (wall) that protects the area and flooding around 259 acres with mud which is almost knee-deep in some places.
The community has been working to repair the damage to the pans but it is a mammoth task. It takes 70 people one entire week to clear just 10 acres and prepare the pans for salt production. Salt harvesting takes an additional week to 15 days. With no income during this time and the monsoon season approaching, the villagers are desperate for help.
The Salvation Army will provide supplementary food for 60 days and develop a cash-for- work programme to clear the pans and build the inner bund. Foodstuffs are available locally and the village is accessible for deliveries. The project will use salt work down time in April and May for the inner bund repairs. This will inject much-needed money into the village and provide community input into the proposal. Wages for men and women on the cash-for-work scheme will be equal.
The 70 Lister pumps which control the water flow into the salt pans were inundated during the tsunami and require minor repairs. Mechanics and spare parts are available locally.
Once the damaged bund is repaired, an additional 500 metres will be constructed, using a village cash-for-work programme.
Two years ago the Government of India agreed to a project that would expand production to the full 269 acres through construction of an outer bund and preparation of the additional acreage. Salt is a priority for the Government. Although a complete project including a survey and environmental impact assessment were completed by the Department of Salt Production in Chennai, it abandoned the project, as the villagers could not secure a 30 per cent contribution to the cost. This contribution is estimated at just US$18,500.
The total project will have far-reaching benefits for the villagers. Currently, many people are trapped in a cycle of debt. Salt workers take out loans to buy essentials and then pay the loans – plus large amounts of interest – when they have sold some salt. Loan follows loan and the interest rates mean the villagers never have any disposable income. This in turn means they cannot pay for schooling for their children, something Howard Dalziel describes as ‘a source of anguish’.
The hard reality is, when a mother has to choose between feeding her children and educating them, food is always going to be the priority. The problem has been getting worse while the salt pans have been unproductive.
Microcredit loans will be made available, managed through small groups. Interest rates will be low, enabling families to afford to pay for education for their children – and so giving them opportunities to better themselves. Any profit made is put straight back into the scheme, generating funds to improve the lives of the community.
Working on the salt pans is incredibly hard work. Howard says, ‘The thing that struck me was the physical labour involved. Many people suffer terrible sores and infections in their legs because they spend so much time in salt water. By the time the workers reach 40 or 50, most of them are blind because of the glare from the pans.’
These health issues are also being addressed through the project, with funding provided to a local Salvation Army hospital which will ensure salt workers and their families receive bi-monthly medicals.
Howard admits that, given the choice, he would love to help the villagers get away from their reliance on the salt works. ‘People have to work so hard for so long for so little,’ he says. ‘But I realise that by helping them we can secure the livelihoods of 350 families. With the health care and increase in capacity we can make this work as positively as possible.’
It’s tempting to dictate what should or should not be done, he admits, but with this and the other projects being undertaken by The Salvation Army, the local people make their own decisions and, in Howard’s words, ‘decide their own fate’. The Salvation Army provides assistance and funding – the people it is helping provide the local knowledge and hard work.
Given the scale of the problems caused by a mixture of the tsunami and long-term poverty, making things ‘work as positively as possible’ is a good start.
|Major Ray Brown, leader of the international team in India, sent back this story from a village where The Salvation Army is at work:|
We were taken to the beach village of Kadiyapattianum where we were able to see at first hand the destruction that had taken place and also witness the Salvation Army relief work in action.
Some houses in this village are situated just metres from the sea.
One woman told me how, when the tsunami hit, she could only hold on to her two children and pray for a miracle, trapped as she was in her little room by the giant waves which, for a while, submerged her property. The description she gave me of those terrifying moments sounded just as if she had been inside a giant washing machine.
Sadly, many of her neighbours did not survive.
Her life and the lives of her children were spared, and for that she was thankful to God, but she has been left with very little. Her house, already spartan prior to the tsunami, has been decimated. It has no roof left and most of her personal belongings are lost or beyond repair.
It was sad to note that outside the house, on a wall, she was attempting to dry out her family Bible. I do not think it will ever be readable.