Indian Ocean tsunami anniversary: ‘Tsunami taught administrative as well as lessons for life’

Chennai, Dec 26: The 2004 tsunami that left over 8,000 people dead and lives of several lakhs upside down as it carved a trail of destruction and despair in Tamil Nadu also taught the administration several valuable lessons in disaster management and relief, said a senior official who was then heading a district which faced the brunt.

“It was a very costly lesson in disaster rehabilitation, though we still wish the lesson could have been learnt in a text-book than being on the field post a major disaster,” state Health Secretary J.Radhakrishnan, then collector of Nagapattinam that was worst-affected among the state’s 13 coastal districts with 6,100 deaths, told IANS.

“The 2004 tsunami taught the government and officials several lessons on being prepared to meet the known and unknown hazards; involvement of community in reconstruction and rehabilitation; the essence of speed in decision-making; the administrative model to meet the immediate needs of the affected and others,” he said.

According to Radhakrishnan, whose grit and determination on the post-tsunami period is still recalled gratefully by villagers of Akkaraipettai in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu’s experience in rehabilitation and reconstruction activities is now taught to Indian Administrative Service officials. Radhakrishnan said the first lesson learnt is to be prepared for not only known hazards but also unknown ones. He said Nagapattinam is a cyclone-prone area but what was not known till 2004 was about a tsunami’s effect. “Even a country like Japan had to face a cascading effect of the earthquake in 2011. First there was an earthquake that triggered a tsunami. When the giant waves hit the land, nuclear power plants were severely affected,” he said.

Indian Ocean tsunami: Then and now

A decade ago, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the coast of Indonesia, triggering a tsunami that swept away entire communities around the Indian Ocean.

About 228,000 people were killed as a result of the 9.1 magnitude quake and the giant waves that slammed into coastlines on 26 December 2004.

The violent upward thrust of the ocean floor at 07:58 local time (00:58 GMT) displaced billions of tonnes of seawater, which then raced towards shorelines at terrifying speeds.

The waves stripped vegetation from mountain sides hundreds of metres inland, capsized freighters and threw boats into trees. The estimated cost of the damage was just under $10bn (£6.4bn).

Ten years on, many coastal towns and villages have rebuilt their communities and lives. The shores of Indonesia and Thailand, left ravaged by the tsunami, appear transformed.

A mini-doll’s decade of setting off waves of hope

Therapeutic clowning from Canada to a musical play as a tribute by a Finnish theatre group, a host of programmes will mark the 10th birthday celebrations of Auroville’s globe-trotting doll, the tsunamika.

Tsunamika, the miniature doll, was conceptualised by Auroville’s Upasana Design Studio in the wake of the tsunami of 2004 as a gift that would turn into a symbol of hope to those stricken by the tragedy. What started as a simple idea to engage women in tsunami-afflicted families around the Auroville bio-region in doll-making as a form of livelihood soon transformed into a fantastic story of post-trauma community rebuilding as well as a fine example of a gift economy that is wholly spurred by donations and where no doll is sold.

The tsunamika turns 10 on January 10, and several events have been planned at Auroville’s Bharat Nivas in celebration of a doll that has become a symbol of joy, hope and unconditional giving across the world.

“In scale, we have planned it to be an international event with a couple of overseas troupes coming down to perform in honour of tsunamika and the womenfolk associated with the project,” says Uma Prajapati, founder of Upasana. Photo exhibitions, workshops, art competition, food, handicraft stall, dance, storytelling sessions, live music and many more activities have been planned. A play from the National Theatre of Finland led by Liisa Isotalo will cap the celebrations.

For Upasana, the design studio founded in 1997, the havoc wrought by the tsunami in coastal hamlets became a trigger for focusing on the application of design for social welfare. And that was how the tsunamika story began as a special project.

10 years on, constructive work far from over

Even 10 years after the tsunami struck and left a trail of destruction, the Puducherry government still has a lot of unfinished work on its hands in terms of construction of houses for the displaced fisher folk families and plugging the gaps on the disaster preparedness front.

A visit to Nallavadu brought to the fore the sluggish progress in rehabilitation works with most of the families living in their impoverished dwelling units located close to the sea.

Scores of surviving families in the coastal village of Nallavadu near here, who were thrown out of their dwelling units after the killer waves struck on December 26, 2004, are now desperately waiting to be rehabilitated and to move into their new homes.

“The government has no full-fledged and fool proof record of the number of families. Although there are around 1,000 families in Nallavadu, the government had worked out rehabilitation plan to cover only 300 families. The fishermen had also avoided moving into the permanent dwelling units as the government had failed to build houses for all victims. Rehabilitation should be taken up for all the affected families at the same time,” said Kuppuraj, a fisherman of Nallavadu.

A few workers were engaged in laying sewerage pipelines while windowpanes and other amenities are yet to be provided in the dwelling units. The delay in rehabilitation is more traumatic than the impact caused by the tsunami.

A senior official in the Project Implementation Agency (PIA) said that the rehabilitation works had been planned to cover families living close to the shore while families who had claimed for housing assistance had relocated to other areas. The PIA is the authorised nodal agency of the Tsunami Rehabilitation Project.

Integrated cyclone warning system functional along coastal, island regions

Under the oversight mechanism of the Earth System Science Organization (ESSO), an integrated cyclone and associated storm surge warning system is made functional all along the coastal and island regions.

Such an effort has resulted in considerable demonstrated improvement of cyclone forecast in respect of the Phailin cyclone during October 8-14, 2013, and the Hudhud cyclone during October 6-14, 2014.

For effective operational cyclone activities, an appropriate institutional mechanism comprising cyclone warning division at ESSO-India Meteorological Department (ESSO-IMD), New Delhi, and three Area Cyclone Warning Centers (ACWCs) at Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai and Cyclone Warning Centers (CWCs) at Bhubaneswar, Vishakhapatnam andAhmadabad are made functional on 24X7 basis