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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Questions over Andaman tsunami aid
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Building a sea wall on the Andaman Islands
Environmentalists are worried about the sea walls
The administration in India's eastern archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar is constructing mud sea walls all around the inhabited islands.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands were one of the worst hit by the tsunami six months ago.

Nearly 4,000 people died and close to 50,000 people were displaced.

Unofficial sources place the number of dead at "not less than 10,000."

Local officials say the sea walls will offer some protection to people living by the sea.

But environmentalists say the mud walls are a "colossal waste of funds".

Environmental concern

The government has earmarked 200m rupees ($4.6m) for constructing the mud walls.

The mud walls will collapse if there is a surge of waves half as powerful as the tsunami
Gautam Shome
Civil engineer
One-tenth of that amount has already been spent and the walls have already gone up in some areas where sea water gushes in during high tide, destroying crops and submerging roads.

Andamans Chief Secretary DS Negi says the sea walls are being constructed to fulfil the demand by villagers living close to the sea.

"Most seaside communities demanded sea walls. Since we have federal funds we decided to provide the communities with the sea walls," Mr Negi told the BBC.

"We have only responded to a community demand ."

That view is supported by Jogen Mondal who lives in Choldhari, near the capital, Port Blair: "We need the sea walls to protect our lands from flooding by sea water during high tides."

But Samir Acharya, convenor of the Port Blair-based Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (Sane), says these mud sea walls will be a "counter-productive exercise".

He says the sea walls will:

  • Stop rainwater from washing off the high saline levels in the soil because it will prevent the water from flowing back into the sea

  • Lead to silt being washed off the mud walls into the sea, choking corals and molluscs and ultimately destroying the reefs

  • Will affect forests in the Andaman highlands where huge amounts of soil are being dug up to construct the mud sea walls.
"Andamans gets more than 3,000 millimetres of rain every year, so the croplands affected by salinity due to tsunami could have been restored because the rains would wash away the excessive salt.

"But with these sea walls that will not happen," Mr Acharya told the BBC news website.

Zoologist Sudeshna Mukherjee says the mud that will wash off the walls and flow into the sea will deny the corals much-needed sunlight.

Construction of homes in Hut Bay
Permanent homes have still not been completed
"They will choke up and die," she says.

Some say the sea walls will offer no real protection to seaside communities if the sea swells up like it did on 26 December.

"The mud walls will collapse if there is a surge of waves half as powerful as the tsunami," says civil engineer Gautam Shome.

Poor compensation

Even as the controversy rages over whether funds are well spent on the sea walls or a waste, villagers in the islands continue to complain of paltry compensation packages.

Many who lost their source of livelihood have got a few hundred rupees as compensation.

Some have got even less - one Nicobarese tribeswoman was paid a cheque of two rupees (less than five US cents).

Andaman tribal boys in Hut Bay
Locals complain that compensation has been derisory
After the low compensation was reported on the BBC News website, some victims were offered more money but many refused in anger.

"That was the biggest joke the administration played on this ruined people," says former parliamentarian Bishnupada Ray.

A plethora of aid agencies have flooded the islands with food and other relief material. But many have made tall claims which have not been borne out on the ground.

While the administration says it has finished most of the 1,0000 "intermediate shelters" that it set out to construct prior to the monsoon, tsunami victims on the islands remain uncertain about how long it would take for them to get their permanent homes.

"The government should have given us tools and timber from our forests and we could have constructed our houses in our traditional style in the last few months," says Rashid Yusuf of the Nicobarese Tribal Association.

"I don't understand why they needed to construct intermediate shelters."


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