Report on a Symposium on Tsunami and the

Issues of Relief, Rehabilitation and Resettlement


June 2005


Prepared by


Paula Banerjee & Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury


Symposium held on 23 April 2005, Kolkata

Organized by Calcutta Research Group


Note: An abstract of this report has been published in the “Forced Migration Review special issue: Learning from the Tsunami”. For details visit






Human rights groups consider the question of rights as crucial for humanitarian relief in all forms of displacements. Rights based groups all over the world believe that humanitarian relief should be recognized as human rights of all affected individuals.  They regard the right to environment and right to humanitarian relief as inter-related. The right to get assistance from the state and other institutions without any discrimination based on caste, religion, gender, is also an important demand made by these groups. 


The Calcutta Research Group organized a symposium that was meant to discuss these questions in the context of Tsunami and its effects on Tamil Nadu and the Andaman Islands in India.  Academics and activists including human rights and gender rights activists participated in this symposium. The speakers in the symposium were –


  • Dr. Louis – People’s Watch, Tamil Nadu
  • Bimla Chandrasekhar – Ekta, Tamil Nadu
  • K.M. Parivelan – Humanitarian activist from Tamil Nadu, also working at the UNHCR office at Chennai
  • Partha Guha – Child in Need Institute (CINI), Kolkata
  • Samir Acharya – Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology
  • Subir Bhowmik – CRG member, and working at the BBC


All the speakers were involved in relief and rehabilitation work for the victims or in efforts to investigate the state of relief for the victims of the Tsunami. 


In the inaugural session of the symposium, Paula Banerjee, Research Coordinator of the MCRG, welcomed all the participants. She indicated that rehabilitation and management of relief is of utmost concern at a time of natural disaster like tsunami and, therefore, human security and the security of the people should be given primacy to the so-called issues of national security. Ranabir Samaddar, Director of the MCRG, made a few introductory remarks about the MCRG and the symposium. In this connection, he referred to the flood disaster in 1921 in North Bengal. He also discussed the role of the colonial administration in the context of natural disasters. In his opinion, disasters, both man-made and other natural calamities probably reinforce the need for recognition of the right to relief as a human right. In the inaugural session the speakers pointed out that the response from the Government of India to massive destructions due to the Tsunami was initially hesitant. The larger civil society institutions took up rescue and relief efforts such as the civil liberty groups, academic institutions and other smaller rights based organizations.  They argued that even today the response of the government agencies is largely in the gratis mode.  Human Rights groups on the other hand have emphasized more the question of right to relief and rehabilitation rather than on actual relief efforts.  There is hardly any recognition that the situation of some groups is worse than the others.  There are families that lost almost everything and others suffered partial losses.  Relief efforts should be made on the basis of the needs of the victim communities and not on any preconceived notions of relief and rehabilitation.


The symposium on the experiences of the Tamil Nadu and the Andaman Islands brought out the specific and particular nature of these experiences, the distance between governmental relief efforts and the reality of the situation on the ground, the misdirected efforts of various relief agencies, the steadfastness of many sections of the local communities, the social and economic inequalities made acute in acute distress and disaster situations, and the over all political configurations that surround such disaster and post-disaster relief efforts, and the human rights dimensions of humanitarian assistance and work. The symposium also brought out with clarity the issue of gender justice that cuts across all themes of human rights and humanitarian work, indeed all situations of tragedy that include calamities, killings, developmental displacements, and massive natural disasters. 


This report is divided in two sections. The first section presents the summary of the discussions; the second section presents the written submissions to the symposium on the basis of which discussions took place.



The Tamil Nadu Experience


Bimla Chandrasekhar made a serious critique of the narrow definition of the affected communities. She admitted that there was discrimination in terms of relief. Bimla questioned the sensitivity of the District Collectors in this context and felt the need for sensitising the district-level authorities to some extent. She argued that the tsunami relief operations were totally gender-insensitive. Women employees were not deputed in the affected areas and male officials were sent to look after the women and children. As a result, while five kerosene stoves were provided for one family, the women received only sarees and no undergarments or churidars.  Similarly, in some areas igloo-like structures were built to provide shelter to the displaced persons. Bimla argued that the need of the victims should be assessed. For instance, all the relief money went to the men, as the women were not considered heads of their families. Consequently, in some cases money was spent on liquor. Media coverage also at times became a menace in the relief operations. Many photographers were eager to have a snap of a helpless woman crying, as this was considered a ‘good copy’. There was also a total mismatch in terms of food supplies. For example, chapattis were being provided to the predominantly rice-eating people in Tamil Nadu. Similarly, although the coastal people prefer dry fish and do not take curd rice, they received curd rice that they could not eat. Bimla clearly indicated that, while the women were the most vulnerable, a few men became rich for the deaths in their family as every death in the family was being monetarily compensated.


There were problems on the part of the women as well. Many women preferred to die instead of remaining naked. They could easily be saved had our societal attitudes been different. Bimla pointed out that this disaster indicates our insensitivity to the affected people. The traditional panchayats working are against the women’s rights. Therefore, there was no need assessment of the women and there was total marginalisation of women even in the relief operations. There was a lack of proper data. It was decided that the relocation of the displaced people has to be beyond 200 metres from the coastline. There remains a debate as to whether this is acceptable since land can be considered as part of the communitarian right or it as a public place over which the government jurisdiction is supreme. This debate also leaves the door open for handing over of these areas to the MNCs in future.


The homogenisation of families was another major problem, according to Bimla. The women were in great difficulty in one-bedroom houses. Bimla pointed out that different actors might have worked but the people’s voices were largely ignored. She said that there was no comprehensive rehabilitation policy, and as a result, the relief operations largely remained supply-driven and not demand-driven. There was also no coordination among the government departments. There was a lack of transparency about the coastal regulations. So, Bimla argued that future planning would require a proper understanding of the situation. Although the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu promised shelter for all the affected people before Pongal, this target could not be achieved.  Rather this created all kinds of problems. There was a lack of coordination among the NGOs. Moreover, the burden of proof is now on the victims. The government is listening to the civil society institutions but not always accepting their recommendations. Rather the government is more sensitive to the media reporting to maintain its image. There is also a reluctance to induct the NGOs in the committee looking after the relief operations. Bimla felt that there is a need for developing a relief core. Monitoring of relief operations is also necessary. There is a need for facilitating the articulation of the victims’ views through increasing the role of the panchayats.


During discussion on her presentation, Bimla indicated that both the political parties and women’s organisations often neglected the issue of discrimination against women in tsunami relief operations.


Dr. Louis in his presentation, said that, the initial response from the Government of Tamil Nadu in the context of rescue and relief operations of the tsunami victims were inadequate. In his opinion, the civil society institutions, like the NGOs, academic institutions and other smaller organisations did much more in those days. He argued that while the human rights organisations emphasised more on the people’s right to relief and rehabilitation, even today the response of the government agencies appears to be in a gratis mode.


Louis pointed out that, as a consequence of the tsunami, while some families lost almost everything, the others had a partial loss. He indicated that the fishing communities got more attention compared to other victim communities in terms of relief. Therefore, there was a need to give more emphasis so far as the relief operations are concerned. There was a necessity to give more importance to the discriminated communities so that they do not die of starvation yet most aid agencies were left grappling with the confusion created by government policies on relief and rehabilitation. Even today, many INGOs and local NGOs with a lot of money are finding it difficult to spend their funds as the government is focussing more on coastal navigation rules, thereby preventing the construction of houses for the tsunami victims or providing them livelihood-related materials, like boats and other implements. Some NGOs have given as many as five boats to bigger fishing families yet hardly any aid to lesser-known groups. About 70% to 80% of aid has come to the communities as a loan package and the remaining in the form of subsidies. Consequently the fishing communities feel that they will not be able to repay these loans as they have lost most of their belongings. Therefore, only 20 to 30% of the fishing communities have been able to go back to their jobs. The rest are remaining idle still now. Dr. Louis also referred to the GO 172 on the Coastal Regulation Rules in this connection. He indicated that, now there are other political agenda in view of the coming Assembly elections. But, there still remain many unattended victim groups, like women, children and aged people who need more attention. Even the issue of rehabilitation of the fishing communities is being considered from a short-term perspective and not from long-term perspectives. Dr. Louis pointed out with deep concern that some mining companies are involved in sand-making as if no displacement has taken place in the region and the government is interestingly silent about them. For instance, in Tuticorin district, many families could be saved had they not been taking out sand. The mangrove forest has also been destroyed leading to soil erosion.


Louis further said that, when the human rights organisations and NGOs started providing relief to the discriminated and dalit communities, the fishing communities prevented them in doing so. In other words, the discrimination was not only based on caste identity but also on the basis of the livelihood pattern. For example, wherever there is salt water, the fishing communities claim a right to fish. But, there is a need to reduce this discrimination. After all, more than 20000 acres of agricultural land has been salienated. This clearly indicates that, the agricultural communities have also been adversely affected from a long-term perspective. But, Dr. Louis hastened to add that there was no paucity of funds. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) sanctioned a huge amount of money for the Government of Tamil Nadu. Then there was the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. But, now there is a demand for more transparency about the use of available funds by the government agencies and the NGOs. The question of accountability to the people has also come up for discussion. But, Dr. Louis concluded that, for this there is a need for national-level effort and the state-level initiatives would not be enough to ensure this accountability.


During discussion on his presentation, Dr. Louis pointed out the insensitivity shown in relief operations. For instance, innumerable wagons of quilt came from northern India for the victims in a hot and humid Tamil Nadu that definitely were of no use. Similarly, when a lot of used clothes came, the fishing communities with a lot of self-esteem refused to accept them. Finally, a few officials had to be employed to remove these. These, in fact, show how the awareness of the local realities was absent among the relief-suppliers.


K.M Parivelan adopted a macro-approach to assess the tsunami relief operations in Tamil Nadu. He emphasised the role of the UN and the response of the government to that. He pointed out that the UN and the Government of India set up a disaster management team and on 27 December, the first meeting of this team was held. The team also got active support from the international agencies, like WHO, UNDP, and UNICEF. The UN agencies started providing certain essential items, such as, water tanks and ORH tablets.


He said that, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands alone, there were 2,88,437 people affected by the tsunami disaster. Therefore, these islands needed infrastructural facilities as well as critical areas of support. There was a need for providing health and nutrition requirements of the victims. There was also a necessity of ensuring care for these victims. Education was another major area of concern so far as these victims were concerned.


Therefore, there were dialogues between the government and the UN. However, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were not part of the assessment – a comprehensive assessment of loss and damage that was initiated. These dialogues provided a lot of data on the estimation of damage. The largest amount of damage was found to be in fishing, housing and infrastructure. Therefore, it was felt that, a participatory and equitable approach was necessary. Similarly, the psycho-social support and care needed to be strengthened. Rebuilding of livelihood was also necessary as was the need for shelter and habitat development. Parivelan felt that the need for an integrated and culture-sensitive approach to relief operations is of paramount importance.


Parivelan pointed out, that some kind of an overlap of relief was a major problem. There were a lot of NGOs involved in the tsunami relief operations in Tamil Nadu. But a section of them were more interested in media publicity, in taking snaps. To them, the tsunami victims appeared as museum pieces.


Partha Guha’s presentation followed Parivelan’s presentation. In his presentation, Partha Guha referred to a cartoon that appeared in the Hindu in January 2005 indicating the situation of the tsunami victims and the NGOs rushing after them. Guha felt that with so many television channels, dailies and periodicals around, a section of the relief workers became more interested in getting publicity. He argued that three kinds of people became very rich on the basis of one of the largest natural disasters in recent times. These were hotels where no rooms were available, the car rental companies and some of the unscrupulous local agencies, which acted as tour guides. In his opinion, people with less amount of money to donate or fund were kept in waiting. However, he admitted, that the government was more proactive this time than it was during the Bhuj earthquake or the Orissa super-cyclone.


During the discussions that followed, Ranabir Samaddar pointed out, that earlier China had a policy of not accepting foreign aid in relief operations. Indian government seems to have followed that policy now in making clear this time that there was no need of foreign government help. India only accepted the assistance coming from the UN and other INGOs. Samaddar observed that the critical point in this case was not whether foreign aid was acceptable or not, but what was to be the relief, rehabilitation, and resettlement pattern, whether the humanitarian assistance structure was democratic and dialogic or not, and whether aid meant imposition of non-conducive and non-relevant and inappropriate designs of relief. This symposium he emphasized was meant to find out these crucial points, and not simply to swim in the current trend of collapsing the entire issue of human rights and humanitarian work into the right of access of foreign agencies to affected areas. He further explained that all the four actors – the State, the international humanitarian relief agencies, the donor countries, and the UN system – suffered from legitimacy crisis in the wake of such disaster, and hence their own distinct particular responses. What were required were a dialogic structure, and placing the voices of the affected at the center of the question of rights and humanitarianism. Natural disasters like other disasters made the contentious situation more acutely conflict centred. 


Dwaipayan Bhattacharya said that, without such a large number of deaths,  the tsunami perhaps would not have attracted so much attention. Therefore, the attention to the victims this time was not simply due to the proliferation of television channels, newspapers and periodicals. In his opinion, some kind of ethnic bonding was involved in it. As so many Europeans died, it appeared to the Western world as a situation of heightened conflict. Therefore, the question of generosity attained an altogether different dimension. Hence there was so much focus on the NGOs, government, coordination of global money, national interest, neighbourhood networks etc. In India, the primal position of the state was also clear in the relief operations. Bhattacharya, however, felt that there was no reference to the political process as such. The role of the political parties was also not discussed in his opinion. In this connection, he was primarily referring to the political interest and not simply partisan interest. He also argued that, there was a serious need for rethinking the role of the state vis-à-vis civil society and community in the context of relief operations in the times of natural disasters.


Samir Kumar Das argued that the way Bhumika, an NGO of the NRIs, did not simply dole out money and other relief items but rather encouraged community kitchens could be another kind of experiment. Bimla, in this connection, pointed out that Bhumika generated conflict between the coastal fishing communities and the inland fishing communities as they raised the question of land entitlement. Bhumika, in her opinion was more objective, and was in a better position to negotiate with the government. But, it also failed to replicate the NGOs to take on from there and remained simply as a model. Dr. Louis once again referred to the problem of coordination in relief operations. He blamed factionalism in the political parties and the lack of acknowledgement of the role of the Muslim minorities in the relief operations. Parivelan emphasised that the state still determined who will provide aid and who will not. The role of the civil society institutions may be enlarging but the State still scrutinises the civil society and it is not the other way round.


The Andaman and Nicobar Experiences


Samir Acharya in his presentation on the relief operations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands began by referring to the continental mindset of the mainlanders. He indicated that even as late as the 1950s, government schemes for the islands were referred to as the colonisation scheme. He reminded that a continental system, however, could not function in an island. He pointed out how the forest was cleared after the independence to make way for rice cultivation. He pointed out further that concrete constructions had come up in large numbers in these islands from the 1970s. He recalled how all the old drains in Port Blair were V-shaped and so there was less sedimentation. Now it has been made U-shaped leading to silting. He indicated how the continental mindset has changed the ground realities in the islands.


As a result of the tsunami, the tectonic plates have gone up in the west and south and gone down in the east and north. Little Andaman had a different kind of impact of tsunami. The difference was of horizontal and vertical displacements. In Acharya’s opinion, contrary to popular perceptions the tsunami has affected the indigenous people more. Yet, the society of the indigenous communities withstood the shock better because to the tsunami-affected Nicobarese community, nobody was an orphan although the children might have lost their parents in the disaster. He described how in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the administration behaved like a dinosaur – a giant outdated machinery. The news of the burning of its tail reached its brain much later. As we know, no foreign fund was allowed directly for the relief operations in the islands. But the NGOs were allowed to transfer money to the administration.


Acharya pointed out, that the Nicobarese refused to accept the fishing gears provided to them in the post-tsunami period, as they were ill suited to local needs, being manufactured in the Indian mainland. In fact, they used to get their gear from Thailand or from the Chinatown in Kolkata. So, he argued that the views of the local people required to be considered and the traditional wisdom had to be given importance. He cautioned that as a result of this disaster, the fishing communities in the islands were likely to be affected, mangrove forests were likely to be denuded and the corals were likely to be damaged, thus affecting the flora and fauna of these islands.


In his presentation Subir Bhaumik referred to the disaster mitigation plan of the SANE (Save Andaman Nicobar Ecology). He also referred to the coastline regulations and pointed out how members of the local elite had violated the ‘no-built zone’. Even the Air Force in Car Nicobar used to violate these established coastal regulations. There was no coordinated disaster mitigation plan. Therefore, the relief operations depended much upon the integrated relief command of the army and not on any kind of committee. The tri-services command was in control of the overall relief and rehabilitation measures. In these islands, the people simply did not have the wherewithal of transportation. As the jetties were washed out, the victims depended on the airlift in order to be rescued. There was no consultation with the community leaders and the task of civilian administration was practically handed over to the military administration including relief and rehabilitation of the victims. The disaster also brought into open the problem of settlers in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Heavy settlements by people from the mainland had disturbed local ecological balance, made resources scarcer, resource conflict more acute, and now with disaster further aggravating the issue, he fared that, the Nicobarese were likely to rebel in future. There were chances of major ethnic strife in the islands in the wake of the disaster. In his opinion, the instruments like the inner-line permits could be introduced to protect the interests of the indigenous communities in the islands.


Bhaumik also pointed out that while the particular features of the affected islands made the role of the Air Force and the United Command of the three services essential for the initial phase of relief activities, the entire experience could become useful for making the islands the strategic base of operations in warm waters. And this possibly explained the reluctance to involve foreign agencies in admission in the Islands.


Both Acharya and Bhaumik noted the fact that the islands did not have local democratic governance and legislative structures. There was no other provision of having people’s representatives except for electing one member of the parliament The absence of political organizations like political parties, elections, local assemblies, etc, had made the islands completely administration-dependant. Relief operations thus became even more bureaucratic.


The speakers and the participants ended their discussions by making eleven (11) policy recommendations.


Eleven Policy Recommendations


  • The relation between foreign relief agencies in Tamil Nadu at times appeared competitive. There should be coordination among the relief agencies – relief should be guided primarily by the needs of the affected communities, and not supply-driven; and victim communities should decide what kind of relief is suitable for them
  • Women’s voices should be given priority in all aspects of relief and rehabilitation. Gender justice should become the chief criterion of a people-oriented humanitarian work.
  • Relief should not be discriminatory. While providing relief more attention needs to be given in tackling caste distinctions and other distinctions based on religion, race, gender and economic status of the victims. In providing relief and arranging for rehabilitation measures attention has to be paid to emerging vulnerabilities.
  • In case of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands its island character with all its implications needs to be kept in mind
  • Rehabilitation policies should audit land policies of the local governments and the situation of the land economy
  • A plan for coping with the needs of disaster management has to be to be prepared in accordance with the particular needs.
  • Community wisdom of rehabilitation should be given preference, though community perceptions too need to be critically examined while formulating policies because communities too have their own hierarchies including their own patriarchies.
  • State policies vis-à-vis resource sharing needs to be critically investigated.
  • Accountability of the administration has to be reemphasized in any policy on relief and rehabilitation; similarly accountability of leaders and countries making promises of assistance has to be similarly maintained. What is important to remember is that a military-bureaucratic model of relief breeds irresponsibility, unilateralism, clientelism, and corruption, while a dialogic model avoids these defects greatly because it is decentralized and conversational.
  • For future planning the need to collect hard information about the nature of disaster and its aftermath should be reemphasized. 
  • The planning, formulation, and administration of humanitarian work has to be in a dialogic framework that accommodates the interests of the victims in the first place and puts emphasis on the dialogue between the relief agencies, self-reliance groups, people’s representatives, government, public organizations, affected communities, and the relevant international institutions, primarily the UN. .


Bimla Chandrasekar


The tsunami that struck the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu (T.N.) on the 26 December 2004 has devastated the coastal communities by killing thousands, destroying houses, boats, fishing gear, agricultural lands, salt pans and wiping out millions of livelihoods. It is estimated that a total of 8,90,885 persons have been affected in these 13 districts. The death toll is 7,960 and many thousands are still in the missing list.  The women and children constitute ¾ of the total dead. The consequence has rendered a large number of families homeless, has left many as widows and widowers, children as orphans and physically and emotionally shattered people. Although the fishing community was the worst hit, the livelihoods of other coastal communities are also equally affected by this disaster.


Rescue and Relief:


·         Immediately after the disaster the relief operations were in full swing. There was overwhelming response from people within and outside the State. There was unprecedented NGO, Corporate, Government and Donor Coordination in providing Relief.

·         The tough task was to remove dead bodies, transfer survivors to the temporary camps, and provide first aid, food and clothing. The T.N. Government moved fast by deputing its Senior IAS officers to the areas to take charge of the rescue and relief operation.

·         Some lessons learnt from the past disasters were applied to address this great human tragedy, particularly with reference to NGO collectives called Coordination Committees.


Magnitude of the Disaster


It is unbelievable and scary to listen to those who witnessed the swelling of the sea that swallowed the fishing community who were on the sea shore in search of livelihoods, throwing their fishing boats over their settlement, killing the children who were playing   on the beach, and swallowing the senior citizens who went on a morning walk. Many of those affected report that their past has been washed away and the future look very uncertain.


Whatever assessments are given with regard to damage or the death toll, they are only estimates and the actual loss is immeasurable as the information regarding causalities keep changing. Information on the extent of physical damage is still unreliable, and the amounts of funds committed by the NGOs and donor agencies for relief and reconstruction have not been clearly established yet.


Disaster Management Operations in Tamil Nadu


Although the shock has begun to fade, the horror still remains. Not many children are to be noticed in these fishermen settlements.  Many are still in the relief camps expecting the government to come out with a rehabilitation package. The NGOs, donor organizations and some corporate houses are busy planning the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases. By January 2, most families in Tamil Nadu had got the government package of a dhoti, saree, two bed sheets, 60 kgs of rice, 3 litres kerosene, Rs.2000 for purchase of provisions and utensils; and Rs.2000 for putting up a hut as a temporary measure.   Orphanages have been opened.


Coordination Action


Hundreds of NGOs have landed in the affected districts collecting data and many of them are providing relief materials as well. The challenge does not seem to be in mobilising resources to carry out the relief and rehabilitation work, rather it is only the coordination that is necessary An NGO Coordination Unit is functioning at the district level in the Collectorate campus at Nagapattinam.  It mainly serves as a place for information exchange on matters pertaining to works undertaken by different NGOs.  It was indicated that there are about 467 NGOs working in the area alone. The relief aid pledged and poured in look more than sufficient. But one thing that is definitely wanting is proper coordination and non-duplication of efforts.


Rehabilitation Process


The construction of temporary shelters, providing ration and livelihood support were the challenges. Logically this phase should be taken over by the permanent housing and other sustainable support, however even after nearly four months many of the affected families are stuck in the camps.


The livelihood support has been extended to fishermen who have lost boats and nets, and the need assessment for other sectors is going on. However a lot of thinking needs to done in this regard.

There has been attempt to address the issue of education mostly by the NGOs through the education centers, play school, amusement centres and Balwadis. Uniforms and books have also been given to these children.


The women seemed to be very much out of the ambit of this rehabilitation process. They are not recognized as workers who need compensation for the loss of livelihood. The needs of lactating and pregnant women remain unattended. Overall the health needs of women and children remain a neglected issue.


Future Needs


·         Developing a relief code

·         Monitoring the finance of Tsunami relief and rehabilitation.

·         Facilitating affected people to articulate and represent their needs.

·         Campaign for devolution of power and allocation of resources for the Panchayats.

·         Form strategic alliances of NGOs and other civil society organizations to demand policies and programmes sensitive.

·         Developing decentralized warning sytems.


Gender Specific Issues


  • In a situation like this women’s safety and their needs becomes low priority for the community and the State.
  • Lack of security into the gendered nature of displacement (relief camps and temporary shelter).
  • Lack of adequate health care to women based on their specific needs.
  • The very neutrality of the state and NGO approach to security and livelihood has hindered any interventions that sought to ensure women’s safety.
  • Lack of women’s representation in the committees of decision-making – relief and rehabilitation.
  • Lack of reflection on the effect of Tsunami on women. Women are not seen as workers.
  • Male dominated camp administration (Sanitary napkin, under garments distributed by men).




  • Both state and non-state agencies working with the affected need to be made aware about the gender specific and special needs of women.
  • All service delivery programmes designed for the internally displaced should also be sensitive to women’s needs and concerns and adopt a right-based approach. Women in displaced communities must be brought into a consultative process, be made a part of decision making, implementation and monitoring of relief and service delivery as well as medium and long term reconstruction and development.
  • The physical security of women and their children will be far greater in communities that are well known to them and where they have a strong social resources relocating women to unfamiliar areas will also have negative implications for their psychosocial and emotional status in their aftermath of a terrible natural disaster. For example women who are able to access familiar religious sites, markets, hospitals, relatives, friends and other resources will be far less vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and psychological distress.
  • Decisions about relocation must recognize women’s livelihoods which are often different from those of men and which may be linked to the physical environment and social context of their original community.
  • Special attention must be made to land rights, housing and shelter benefits, creation of employment, reestablishment of livelihoods, training and livelihood support for women taking into consideration the specific needs of widows, women supported household, women with disability and aged women.  
  • It is absolutely necessary that women become a part of the structures of administration put in place to deal with displacement and other problems faced by those who are affected by Tsunami at every level, from the village level to right up to the state and central operations. In particular it is critical that women become an integral part of the committees at district and state level. 
  • We request that regionally based women’s groups be invited to nominate experienced women representatives to the above committees. Gender sensitive guidelines must be issued to officials to ensure that women and girls are guaranteed safety and security from gender based violence.
  •  Women’s groups and community based groups should be supported to work with displaced women and to build closer relationships that may pave the way for more open discussions regarding the issue of violence as well as more constructive interaction with officials and important decision makers.

Dr. Louis


Dr. Louis from the People’s Watch Tamil Nadu presented the report of the recently formed Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Coordination Committee. This committee was set up on 30 December 2004 to coordinate relief efforts and is formed of a number of NGOs in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Coordination, Tamilnadu & Pondicherry (TRRC) was a result of spontaneous and instantaneous reflections of more than 90 NGOs to the Tsunami tragedy. As it used to be always, many NGOs instantly responded to the tsunami in their own way and capacities. Once they had to face the reality in terms of the magnitude and severity of the impact, most of them thought that the situation cannot be handled by any single organization, but required pooling of resources and expertise which in turn necessitates some organized and coordinated effort.


Purpose of TRRC


TRRC is neither an implementing organization nor a nodal agency for any funding organizations. It is only a coordination committee that remains to be informal in its form and structure. The core business of TRRC falls on the following lines:


  • Monitoring of State relief and rehabilitation activities
  • Dialoguing and campaigning on issues relating right to relief & rehabilitation of all the affected people, particularly the marginalized and vulnerable communities
  • Influencing the relief & rehabilitation policies of the state
  • Demonstrating and influencing all actors, particularly the state to demonstrate transparency and accountability
  • Ensuring that the Coastal communities’ ‘Right to the Coast” is protected.




TRRC believes in ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘Rights principles’ and is open for NGOs, Movements, Organizations and Expert groups who fall in agreement with its codes and principles. TRRC does not have any other criteria whatsoever to become a member except for the codes and principles. Since its inception, the membership has grown from 90 to 300. Except for matters of emergency, all decisions of TRRC are taken through a consultative process.


Guiding Principles


All of TRRC’s activities are based on the principles that are stated below:


i.        Commitment to the Rights and Equity principles in relief & rehabilitation

ii.       Recognition of the coastal communities ‘Right to the Coast’ under customary international laws

iii.       Positive discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, livelihood, disability, persons living with HIV / AIDS (PLHA), children.

iv.      Ensure protection of coastal ecosystems and natural landscapes

v.       Community participation to be ensured at all levels of relief & rehabilitation

vi.      Committed to the principle of inclusiveness and social cohesiveness in relief & rehabilitation

vii.      Commitment to minimum habitation standards – 5 cents of land; 500 square feet built area for a family of 4-5 with running water, sanitation and other livelihood oriented facilities.

viii.     To prevent and resist forced eviction of coastal communities

ix.       To support all community based sustainable livelihood initiatives

x.       Adherence to the principles of transparency and accountability in relief and rehabilitation




The TRCC met in Madras on 26 January 2005 in combination with state government representatives to discuss the State’s long-term rehabilitation agenda and current challenges to implementation based on both Government and NGO activities to date. As this consultation was convened especially in reference to Government Orders 25 and 26, much of the dialogue there concerned the proper nature of the “public-private partnerships” envisioned in those orders. At the same time, concerns about equality of access to assistance and about inclusion of marginalized groups also figured prominently throughout the session. These discussions were followed by the presentation of ten resolutions approved by the body, and finally by a question-and-answer session in which Mr. Santhanam, IAS, Special Commissioner for Relief and Rehabilitation and Mr. C.V. Shankar, IAS, Special Officer of Tsunami Relief responded to queries about future government policy and the State’s provision of relief to date.


On 30 January 2005 the TRCC convened a consultation in Cuddalore on protection and education of the children affected by the tsunami. Various child rights organizations working in the affected regions and officials from the Education Department representing the government participated in the meeting. With the welfare and rights of the child as its primary focus, the consultation covered a wide range of issues from education to the rights of unborn children. It was stressed that schools in the affected areas should be reconstructed as social spaces that cater to the complete rehabilitation of the affected children. The need to create a holistic education programme that would bring children out of school into the education system was stressed. Discussions also covered adoption policies for children orphaned by the tsunami, community parenting, the threat of exploitation, and the need for complete and balanced nutrition for children and pregnant women. Finally, concerns were raised about examinations for the affected children, especially children facing the board exams this year. Subsequent to the consultation held at Cuddalore on issues relating children and education, a high level committee of educationists was formed to make a representation of TRRC to the Government of Tamilnadu. A memorandum was placed before the government to conduct special examinations, which would be preceded by an expert committee assessment of tsunami affected students of Class 10 and 12.


On 28 February 2005 there was another meeting at Chennai on the “Right to the Coast”. The trends in the post-tsunami scenario had raised many concerns, especially the coastal communities’ right to the coast, which had come under threat. While the relief and rehabilitation measures had not fully reached the victims and the reconstruction process was yet to get its footing, the coastal communities were being forcibly evicted. Signatures were obtained from community members (without clearly informing them the purpose of the signatures) to relocate them beyond 1000 meters, while the position of industries, resorts, hotels and other corporate project on the coast will not be affected. These trends clearly showed that the market globalization forces had come into the process of taking over the coast using the tsunami as a pretext for relocating the coastal communities from the coast. The purpose of this consultation was to generate a common position on the coastal communities’ right to coast and create a common action plan. The organizations taking part in the meeting were Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Coordination (TRRC), Tamil Nadu & Pondichery, KattumaramMakkal Medai (KMM), North Tamil Nadu Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Committee (NTN TRRC), Coastal Action Network (CAN), Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation (HRFDL), and National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR)


The zonal consultations, held at Cuddalore, Thoothukudi, Kanyakumari, and Nagapattinam in the first week of February, were essentially aimed at making the affected communities aware of the policy pronouncements and government orders relating to relief and rehabilitation and at assessing the extent of implementation by the State administration. These consultations were designed in a format where policies were spelt out to an audience of representatives from the various strata of the affected communities and then comment invited. Finally, this input and related demands were formulated into resolutions addressed to the government. These consultations have resulted in a number of issues being thrown up including discrimination based on caste, livelihood, gender and disability. Further several gaps and exclusions in the relief and rehabilitation process have come to the fore. These meetings concluded with an overwhelming demand from the communities for a grievance redress mechanism, as most of the government orders and their lofty intentions relating to tsunami have been violated on the field. They resolved also for the formation of a Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Committee in every village, consisting of representatives of elected Panchayat leaders, women, children, co-operatives, and NGOs to plan, implement and monitor relief activities. Finally, the coastal communities asserted their inalienable rights to the coast and its resources under the customary law.


As an effort towards facilitating community participation in relief & rehabilitation and for facilitating the affected communities to recognize their right; not only for relief & rehabilitation, but also for their ‘right to the coast’, it has been planned to promote people’s committees in all the 13 coastal districts. People’ committees will be promoted by the local NGOs who have joined TRRC during the district level consultations just held. TRRC will invest much of its resources in strengthening these people committees, so as to enable them in dealing issues that affect them and limit its operations with only a supportive role over a period. Clearly two tasks have to be managed in coordination – the coastal communities’ “Right to the Coast” and protecting “Coastal Environment”, lest the new situation does not open the gates of beach entertainment industry.


Problems and challenges


Even after 3 months of the Tsunami, except for a few, none of the affected communities have got their houses built. Despite, having a large number of INGOs / NGOs who have adequate money and willingness to construct houses, the state finds it difficult in allocating lands / villages for them to begin their work. In addition, the state has not yet declared its policy / intentions on ensuring disaster resistant technology in rebuilding of houses. TRRC feels that it has a major role to play in this regard. Similarly securing the livelihoods of the coastal agricultural communities, marginalized & vulnerable communities is another task. It is evident that many groups and communities, including the inland / backwater fishing & para fishing communities, non fishing & coastal agricultural communities have been either excluded or discriminated in the relief and rehabilitation processes of the state. For reasons of not having visible / physical damages these communities have not been listed as eligible for relief. Where as they have lost their livelihoods sources and in many cases these losses are irrevocable, there is a pressing need for them to be provided with one or the other alternate source of livelihood that only could make them manage their living.


Another major challenge that we foresee is the ‘dilemma’ of the affected communities with regard to maintaining their stand to residing within 500 meters. The recent earthquake near Sumatra on 28th March followed by the tsunami warning has made these communities rethink their stand. This may provide a context for the state to revert to their original orders of relocating people beyond 1000 meters.


Caste based discrimination has been part of the system for long. Coastal communities are also marked by the discrimination. The relief & rehabilitation activities of the state have started reinforcing these differences, knowingly or unknowingly, to the extent that many of the dalit communities can no longer work and live with the fishing communities. The tragedy of the tsunami has been a rich experience and learning also in terms of getting to know about varying issues and dimensions relating livelihoods of different communities. In times of great crisis as this, they ran parallel administration, began community parenting and had widow caring systems that exist as an integral part of their culture. Once again here also, the notion of orphan was rarely found in these communities.


Dr. K.M. Parivelan


K.M. Parivelan, a member of the UNHCR staff participated in the rehabilitation process individually and not through his organisation.  According to him the all India death toll in Tsunami was around 10,749 people and 6,913 were reportedly injured. It was also reported that 5,640 persons were still missing. In Tamil Nadu over 7,983 deaths were reported. Of the 12 coastal districts affected.[1] Nagapattinam was the worst affected, where 6,051 people died. Over 824 died in Kanyakumari and 612 were reported dead in the Cuddalore district. For more details see Table 2.


In Kerala 171 deaths were reported. The Kollam district reported 131 deaths followed by Alappuzha with 35 and Ernakulam with 5 deaths. In Andhra Pradesh 105 deaths were reported and 11 people were reported missing in the affected districts.[2] . Of the affected districts, Krishna and Prakasam were reported to be the worst affected in terms of human toll with 27 and 35 deaths, respectively. In Pondicherry 591 deaths were reported and 75 were reported missing from the coastal areas of Pondicherry and Karaikal. In Karaikal, 484 persons were reported dead and 66 missing.


In Andaman and Nicobar Islands, out of the 37 inhabited islands, 15 islands (Andaman-2; Nicobar-13) were affected by the tsunami and coastal flooding. As per official reports, 1,755 human lives were lost. About 5,542 are missing/feared dead in the Nicobar Islands. The worst hit were the Car Nicobar, Great Nicobar and Nancowrie group of islands. The total population of the affected islands is reported as 2,95,959.


Tamil Nadu was the worst affected State with over 7983 people killed as per Government reports. All the 13 coastal districts were affected. Nagapattinam is the worst affected district where 6051 people have died, while over 824 in Kanyakumari and 612 are reported dead in Cuddalore. The tidal waves on the mainland were of 7-10 metres in height; penetrated into the mainland from 300 metres to 1-1.5 kms. The Central Team deputed and the State Government has projected the damage/ reconstruction cost at Rs.479.954 billion. The detailed version of number of villages affected, population affected and human lives lost can be seen in Table 2 below.


Table: 1


No. of villages




Human lives




































































Source: Govt. of Tamil Nadu Report & UNDMT Situation Report-2005


The United Nations in India has an established Disaster Management Team (DMT), composed of representatives from eight UN agencies[3], and charged with the task of ensuring prompt and effective country level disaster preparedness and response when appropriate. The first post-tsunami meeting of the DMT took place on 27th December 2004, immediately followed by situation reports dissemination to all stakeholders, onsite rapid assessment by Agencies and sharing of UNDMT response plan and tools with neighbouring UN Country Teams. UNICEF, the designated lead agency for relief, began operations on the 26th of December in the South India.


The Government did not appeal for external assistance for the relief phase; however in keeping with established practices in past disasters, the UN system expanded its existing programmes to provide immediate support. UNICEF led the humanitarian efforts with active support from other UN bodies. UNDP supported Government's co-ordination efforts particularly through information gathering and organisation carried out by expert resources from the ongoing GoI-UNDP Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Programme. Programme personnel also travelled to Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia to provide similar support in these countries. During the relief phase, UNICEF has been active in some islands providing education, water and sanitation and health and nutrition support. WHO has been active in providing health supply.


Although the Government of India and the Government of Tamil Nadu like other States affected were caught unaware by the tsunami, they responded quickly to the situation. At the national level, a number of steps were taken. The Ministry of Home Affairs was designated as the nodal agency for co-ordinating relief in the affected states and union territories and formed a control room with a help line for the public. In addition, a National Crisis Management Committee was established under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary. An amount equivalent to US$112 million was allocated to the affected states and union territories from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF). Other funds have also been announced. At the national level, the Planning Commission has the central responsibility for the recovery and rehabilitation phases. State Governments are responsible for implementation of recovery programmes.


The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister directed the officials of the Revenue Department under the Relief Commissioner to co-ordinate search, rescue and relief efforts through the District Collectors with assistance from the police, fire and rescue services, medical and health services and other associated departments. The state Relief Commissioners opened control rooms to disseminate information to the public and state government web sites relating to tsunami rescue and relief operations were opened. Supported by the army, navy, air force and coast guard and senior civil servants deputed to affected areas, the district administrations identified and disposed off the dead, removed debris, rescued and moved people to safer locations, worked to prevent an outbreak of epidemics and restore basic services such as power and water. In addition, relief camps were opened. Initially 44,207 people were placed in 58 relief camps. Now the relief camps are moreover closed and their inhabitants have returned home.


Initially the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu sought Rs. 4,800 as relief and rehabilitation fund from Centre under the following heads:[4]

a. Rs. 204.95 crores for search, rescue and relief;

b. Rs. 90 crores for a temporary relief package;

c. Rs.71.45 crores for public health-prevention of epidemics and treatment of the injured;

d.      Rs.261.36 crores for a sustenance package to compensate good livelihood loss;

e.      Rs. 250 crores for temporary housing;

f.       Rs.750 crores for permanent housing;

g.      Rs.709.22 crores for restoration of community assets in the coastal areas; and

h.      Rs.1,054 crores for rehabilitation and restoration of fishermen livelihood.


It also announced the following relief measures to the tsunami affected: [5]


(i)           The State government to adopt orphaned children and admit them to state-run childcare centres. The orphaned children would be provided with Rs.5lakhs comprehensively.

(ii)         The State administration to provide similar financial package of Rs.5 lakhs for each orphaned adolescent girl in the age group 14-18. They are likely to be admitted to the care service homes run by the State Government, to enable these girls to become self-reliant through vocational and technical training.

(iii)        Each person who suffered grievous injuries in the tsunami disaster given an ex gratia of Rs.25, 000 and free health services.

(iv)       The State government has announced a new pension scheme of Rs.200 and free rice to the tsunami-affected women and the aged.


However, resettlement issues are still under active discussion, particularly in the context of the interpretation of the provisions of the Coastal Zone Regulation with regard to settlements along the coastal line. A Needs Assessment Report was prepared in response to a request from the Government of India (GoI) by a joint mission comprising the Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations (UN) and the World Bank (WB) between February 1 and 2, 2005. The three put together a team and organised a joint assessment mission (JAM) to the tsunami-affected areas on the Indian mainland. It was organised under the co-ordination of the UN Country Team (UNCT) with the participation of several agencies such as ILO, UNDP/BCPR, UNDP/GEF, UNAIDS, WHO and UNICEF. As agreed with GoI, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were not part of the scope of the assessment.


The ADB, UN and World Bank Joint Assessment Mission, which comprised a group of specialists and qualified experts, analysed the damage and losses as well as the needs expressed by the relevant local, territory and State authorities. It also made field visits to the most affected districts, and undertook – on a sample basis - consultations with local experts, members of civil society and NGOs. The damage and losses presented here reflect the available official information provided by the states and union territory officials, compiled between 1 and 15 February, 2005, and the visits undertaken by the mission to selected affected areas.


Permanent solutions to housing and restoration of infrastructure are an immediate priority and require commitment of resources that may not be delayed. Investments in these and the location of the new infrastructure (in terms of relocation of housing, restoration or construction of urban and rural infrastructure and resilience-increasing measures such as locally-adapted and environmentally sound coastal protection) are tied to overarching policy decisions. These decisions deal with appropriate coastal regulation and risk management, some of which have significant costs and financial implications in the districts and states affected.


The tsunami brings to the surface underlying vulnerabilities to well-known and recurrent hazards and has major negative social consequences on the livelihoods of people at the fringes of the development process. Its consequences for the most-affected productive sectors (fisheries and to a lesser extent, agriculture) affect the livelihood of the entire community beyond the directly affected areas. It also highlights systemic gender inequalities that disadvantage women in such processes. The systemic analysis highlights the crosscutting nature of the disaster’s impacts, and thus, the necessary multi-sectoral, inter-institutional, and multi-disciplinary approach needed for the reconstruction process. The disaster points to the need for interventions, with a participatory, equitable, flexible, decentralised and transparent approach beyond the livelihood restoration, ensuring that women play a central role in re-building communities. Better management of the coastal environment and reinforced risk reduction must be a part of the overall social and economic strategy, adopting realistic, attainable goals in the short and medium term, and are at the core of this Recovery Framework.




·         Efforts to be made in future to avoid duplication of relief and rehabilitation works- so as to avoid wastage of time/ resources through State- Civil Society co-ordination.

·         To provide organised socio-legal counselling- since majority of the people living in coastal areas are not much educated/ literate.

·         To create a comprehensive database in the Taluk level with details comprising population, occupational profile, property details, etc. 

·         Civil society needs more space in terms of bringing transparency and accountability for State actions- it has been reported that few cases of malpractice, corruption and nepotism did take place during the relief distribution.

·         To promote community based policy-making and implementation with gender sensitization. 

·         It is pertinent to sustain the enthusiasm and coordinated rehabilitation efforts till the actual needs cease to exist- It has been reported that initial energetic responses and action by both State and civil society gets dampened in due course of time.

·         To have expanded role for UN agencies in the future disaster mitigation- UN agencies having wider experiences in other parts of world could be effectively put to use.

Participants at the Symposium

  1. Bimla Chandrasekar, EKTA, Madurai
  2. Dwaipayan Bhattacharya, Centre for Study of Social Sciences, Kolkata
  3. Jayanta Dasgupta, All India Newspaper Employees Union, Delhi
  4. K M Parivelan, UNHCR, Chennai
  5. Krishna Banerjee, CRG and khoj magazine
  6. M. Louis, Peoples Watch Tamil Nadu, Madurai
  7. Madhuresh Kumar, CRG
  8. Maria Francesca D’agostino, University of Calabria
  9. Partha Guha, Child in Need Institute, Kolkata
  10. Paula Banerjee, CRG and Calcutta University
  11. Pradip Kumar Bose, CRG and Centre for Study of Social Sciences, Kolkata
  12. Ranabir Samaddar, CRG
  13. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, CRG and Rabindrabaharati University
  14. Samir Acharya, Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, Port Blair
  15. Samir Kumar Das, CRG and Calcutta University
  16. Sanjukta Bhattacharya, Jadavpur University
  17. Subir Bhaumik, BBC India
  18. Sudeep Basu, Centre for Study of Social Sciences, Kolkata
  19. Ashok Kumar Giri, CRG
  20. Ayan Mukherjee,CRG
  21. Raj Kumar Mahato, CRG and Centre for Study of Social Sciences, Kolkata
  22. Ratan Chakraborty, CRG


[1]  The affected districts in Tamil Nadu consist of Thiruvallur, Chennai, Kancheepuram, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Pudukkotai, Ramanathapuram, Toothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kannyakumari.

[2] The Affected districts in Andra Pradesh include: Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore.

[3] Consisting of UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, ILO, WHO, UNODC, and UNFPA.

[4] The Hindu, Chennai, 5 January 2005

[5] The Hindu, Chennai , 4 January 2005