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Tsunami survivors in a different battle

Reconstruction fails to meet the needs and expectations of those who survived the killer waves, reports Rahul Singh.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 02:06 IST

A year ago, on the first anniversary of the tsunami, Mandapathur found hope amid the wreckage that the raging sea had left behind: a rehabilitation colony for 100-odd families. Another year has passed, and hope has been swept away by anger.
People trying to piece together battered lives — the village, some 150 kilometres south of Pondicherry, was reduced to rubble by the "towering black wall" and 41 people killed — do not have access to the basics: water and power.

"We have been here for a year. There is no provision for drinking water. There is no power connection either. Of course, they have fitted taps and power points inside the shelters. Only we do not know what to do with them," says an old fisherman, breaking down as the chorus of other, angrier voices continues his tale.

The government, in its hurry to rehabilitate and utilise reconstruction funds, chose tokenism over sense or comfort. A stroll through shelters built by the government and NGOs along the Bay of Bengal throws up the same story.

Chief Minister N Rangasamy handed over dwelling units built at Vettakara Medu, about five kilometres from Pondicherry, to 65 families this November.

The average cost per unit worked out to around Rs 2.3 lakh.

The beneficiaries, however, accuse the NGO from Andhra Pradesh which implemented the project of doing a shoddy job. "The rains exposed the poor quality of construction. All roofs began leaking with the first showers," complains Santhi, who does odd jobs for a living. That's not all.

Built in a low-lying area, the rehab camp has no roads and gets inundated whenever it rains. Santhi adds, "The shelters have been built in the middle of nowhere. A relative died recently and we had to carry his body for several kilometres to give him a decent burial."

New housing clusters are coming up in Keezhakasakudy, Patanacherry, Akkampettai and a few other pockets.

The government has set aside Rs 49 crore to construct 6,000 additional shelters in the new year. But there is skepticism over whether the reconstruction work will address the needs of the displaced. The government should not carry out symbolic reconstruction, says a fisherman from Kottecherry Medu.

S Kumaraswamy, secretary, relief and rehabilitation, promises that future reconstruction work will move in the right direction and meet the expectations of the people.

"We have been earnest in our approach but there's no denying that some work should have been completed," he said.

First Published: Dec 26, 2006 02:07 IST