Friday, December 26, 2014

In Photos: Life After 10 Years of Tsunami - Part 1

It's been 10 years since the devastating Asian Tsunami happened. How have things changed on the ground since then, especially for those who bore the brunt of that disaster? To find the answer, I recently visited some villages along the east coast of India. Shared here are few glimpses of life I saw there.

 And now there's another shrine - The Tsunami Temple

The Tsunami in 2004 took a lot - lives, homes and assets included - but also gave something. This structure, for example, emerged out of  the sea  next to the famous shore temple of Mahabalipuram  and quickly gained popularity as the Tsunami Temple. Natarajan, a tourist guide told me, 'this is our latest attraction'  and then, "but you can't go there. It's too slippery".   Now, that's a fitting gift of a disaster!

"Tourism matters, tourists matter, we don't"

Prabhakar Sharma sells souvenirs on the beach. After the Tsunami in 2004, the government was quick to restore the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, he said. But,  for the owners of over 100 makeshift shops that were also destroyed by the tsunami, there hasn't been any compensation. A bitter Sharma told me this : "The govt invested well into restoring the temple and the facilities for the tourists. But we, the beach traders who sustain the tourists interests, were left to lick our  own wounds. We just didn't matter"

           A new trail of disasters

There is an alarming rate of erosion along the coast and every village has at least half a dozen houses that are in various stages of destruction.
The erosion has significantly increased post Tsunami 2004, I was told, These are pictures from a village called New Kalapakkam. Here, I saw men of the villages playing cards in a half-eroded hall. There was such a sense of helplessness in the air!

Rows of hollow-rooted trees

One thing that struck me was how hollow the roots of the trees in the coastal villages looked. It was like someone was working with them all day, carefully removing all the soil and sand from around their roots, exposing them to the air in a vicious game of striptease!

Desalination Plant - boon for a few, bane for others

In one of the coastal villages called Nemmeli, the government has built a desalination plant. Since its construction in 2013, erosion has increased along the shoreline, say locals. According to a fisherman Pattu Raja, the factory is discharging great amount of salt in the water which is driving away all the fish. And that is pushing the fishermen to a new level of danger: "since the stock of fish has gone down in the shallow water, we now have to travel way further into the sea to get a good catch. If the weather turns bad, we can't return to the shore as quickly as we did earlier."

Hope amidst hopelessness, dreams amidst despair

Even as erosion continues to eat into their homes, forcing them out of their land, there's something that provides a desperate coastal community with new a flicker of hope: a community college where their children can study for a minimal fee. The college also offers to train them into disaster management - a much needed subject. You can read more of this in my story here

"But what about our Identity? Does that not matter?" 

But not all all are enthusiastic about a livelihood that plucks the fisherman away from the sea. Rakesh - the young fisherman in this picture - told me this: "I grew up here, by the sea, inhaling the salt and fish in the air. This is who I am, this is what defines me. What good does a life has where I am taken away from all of this and made to work in a call center? That's not who I want to be!"

                                   Mapping the danger

While opinions lay divided on the usefulness of attaining a degree and working in the city as a viable alternative livelihood, all locals seem to agree one thing : knowing of the dangers that  surround them could be of help. So, at the entrance of  several villages we see this signboard. It holds a map of the village, the details of  disasters that could strike the village and instructions on how they could protect them when that happened. 

                      Childhood - secure until interrupted?

Oblivious to all the danger and fear and worries that their elders shared, children were playing in the villages - like they should. They smiled, laughed, ran - even amidst the debris of the houses that were destroyed by the erosion - and next to the very sea that threatened to swallow their homes someday.

Will these children be this joyful when they grow up? Will the world manage to reign in climate change by then, making it safer for these children? I wish I knew the answer!

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