Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Killer Tsunami?

Over 68 000 dead in 9 countries and still counting. 5 500 in mainland India and 7000 in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Such senseless and needless loss of precious human lives. The videos of the tsunami and some more of previous tsunamis on the internet show one common thread which killed people in all these - people too close to the shore. In India too, something was common in all the places where death was huge - huts and villages too close to the shore line and many a times on the beaches itself.

While I can't talk about places like Cuddalore and Nagapattinam, I have seen Chennai upclose and can definitely say that the huge loss of lives in Chennai would have been probably avoided if the shanties have been forcibly removed from Marina beach and along Elliots beach by the corporation guys. While I regret the needless death of so many people, they were squatting in a place they shouldn't have been in the first place. Whenever there was a 'drive' to remove 'encroachments', some politician or the other intervenes on behalf of the 'oppressed poor' and try to stop this 'cosmetic' 'beautification plan'. Even social workers protested against this to 'protect the downtrodden' and 'protect their livelihoods'.

The huge beach would've considerably reduced the impact of the waves. If experts are to be believed, the energy of the waves was largely dissipated by the time they crossed the main road. Had those huts been constructed beyond the mainroad leaving the beach clear, they would've probably escaped with loss of just their possessions.

Even in places like Velachery, Kolathur and Ambattur, people fill up the rain catchment areas with dirt from construction going in the city and build dense settlements, sold by a government agency! Whenever the rainfall is heavy, these places are inundated under a few feet of water and they blame the government for everything.

During monsoons, the huts built on the banks of River Cooum and River Adyar are washed away, the people complain and build the huts back after the water drains. When the corporation tries to remove these encroachments, they protest a lot, pelt the police with stones and the party in the opposition comes to their support even if they tried to do the same thing when they were occupying the treasury benches. One year Stalin tries to remove encroachments and Jayalalitha decries the 'high handedness' of Karunanidhi. The next year, the roles are reversed and Karunanidhi talks about the arrogance of 'that lady' Jayalalitha.

I've lived in Mumbai and I've seen 'shanties' constructed along the shore after clearing the mangroves that act as a natural barrier against such incidents. They are stubbornly putting themselves in the path of danger and they are encouraged by those politicians just because they will get a block of votes.

Who are the people affected? Women and children. Entire villages washed away, a whole generation of children lost forever (at least a third of the victims this season were children). Maybe the 'social workers' do have a point, what good does it make when these people are forcibly removed without an alternative site to live in? Even if they move away, a new wave of people move in here! Maybe life is cheap in a populous country like India.

The 'officials' are saying that this is the first Tsunami to hit India, while this is the third time since 1885 (or some closeby year) with the last one being in 1945. After incidents like the Bhuj earthquake and the fire tragedy in Kumbakonam everything is just a knee jerk reaction. Builders are back to pushing the unsafe houses they constructed, crowded classrooms operating in unsafe schoolhouses, while politicians try to build their power base rather than working for the people that elected them - the ruling party punishing constituencies that did not vote for them.

May the souls of the dead rest in peace and let the people and politicians wake up atleast now! The environmentalists and safety-conscious people are not our enemies, they say this for our own good.


Paul said...

Thanks for posting this! For those who want to help out... I have added some Christian mission relief links to: www.heartformissions.net

Anonymous said...

This is how the Indian system works..You are right..
I was watching the regional news and there begins the war of words b/w DMK & ADMK( the 2 great parties that pushed TAMILNADU to ditches) about the relief efforts..I dont understand why one wants to politicize such a national tragedy. With so many millions of $$ of aid from world countries, are they going to provide houses again at coastal shores??WAIT AND WATCH..GOD BLESS INDIA