TAMIL NADU

Flood-hit hamlets yet to recover from tragedy

One year on, impoverished families in Cuddalore district are still struggling to rebuild their life

Miniamma, a fragile old woman unsure of her age, crawled into her low-roof thatched hut on Kaliamman Koil Street at Sivapuri village. Sitting in the small earthen-floored room, she points to the spot where the wall collapsed during the rains last year.

“We are agricultural labourers and do not have money to rebuild our houses,” she says.

Several thatched mud huts with crumbled walls line up Kaliamman Koil Street. Removed from the hustle and bustle of the Cuddalore town, the remote village with 110 dwellings has an eerie silence about it.

Like Miniamma, many impoverished people are struggling to repair and rebuild the huts that were devastated in the floods last year. A room not more than four-foot high and separated by a small mud wall to accommodate kitchen in a corner is the home for several Dalit agricultural and wage labourers who reside in the flood-prone areas.

The elders of this village were seen relentlessly knitting palm fronds sitting on the cow dung plastered road outside their homes to ensure they do not go without roof this monsoon.

A majority of the inhabitants of this village, which is about 15 km from Chidambaram, are labourers working in the nearby paddy fields. “The land owners pay Rs. 250 a day. We get this money only when there is work. We are struggling to meet our daily needs. How can we think about building a house or providing education for children with this meagre amount,” rues Bhagyam.

The men from this village travel to Chennai, Tirupur, and Kerala to work as labourers. There are only two boys going to college from this village.

About 11 km from Chidambaram, Dandeshwar Nallur village, adjacent to Nagacheri Kulam, has 90 houses. Once a rich fertile land where 500 acres were cultivated, the place has virtually nothing left of its agrarian roots.

Indiscriminate land conversion has wiped out any trace of agriculture in this region. With no land holdings, the agricultural labourers travel to Chidambaram to work as daily wage labourers in construction industry.

“People continue to live near the water bodies as they have lived for generations and are impoverished to look for better areas to reside. The government has to take steps to rehabilitate them,” says 60-year-old Ambigapathy of Dandeshwar Nallur.

Dwindling agricultural land and erratic monsoon have affected the numerous villages in Cuddalore district inhabited by the Dalit agricultural labourers. Lack of proper administration and sustained employment has subjected the impoverished workers to not only poverty but forced them to face the nature’s fury.

Worst hit

Cuddalore district has been among the worst-affected districts during natural calamities. While natural phenomena are inescapable, the magnitude of the losses each time raises serious questions about the efficacy of disaster preparedness measures among the vulnerable areas.

In 2004, tsunami hit coastal villages of the district killing over 400 people, mostly women and children. The killer waves pulled down the structures in these coastal villages, destroyed crop on 317.93 hectares and horticultural produce on 199.26 hectares and turned 1,592.98 hectares of land saline. The most affected villages include Suba Uppalavadi, Thallangudi, Thevanampattinam, Sonankuppam, Samiarpettai, Pudhukuppam, Muzhukkuthurai, MGR Thittu, Killai, Periakuppam, Nallavadu, and Chinnur.

The 2011 Thane Cyclone left a devastated Cuddalore with communication networks disrupted and uprooting electric poles. At least three lakh houses and one lakh hectares of agricultural and horticultural crops were damaged in the district. The administration had assessed damage up to Rs 4,000 crore.

In 2015, nearly 4,804 huts damaged and paddy crops on around 20,164 hectares of land were submerged across the district. The tail-end Cauvery delta regions of Chidambaram and Kattumannarkovil were the worst affected where crops on 11,880 hectares were destroyed. Affected by tsunami in 2004, cyclone Thane in 2011 and floods in December 2015, the villages have not recovered to normalcy. Besides, they fear another disaster for which they are still unprepared.

Villagers in Vadakkuchavadi, Thillaividangan, and several hamlets in Chidambaram and Cuddalore are living in the fear of another monsoon onslaught. The government has to clear the garbage from canals to allow free flow of water, they said.

Amarnath of New Programmes, Organisation for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation, an NGO in Chidambaram, said they were working with local residents to expedite the repair work before the monsoon arrives. The NGO says it raised an estimated Rs. 3 crore in funds in the wake of floods last year and used it to provide relief supplies to around 2,50,000 people. The hut repair programme is part of a long-term initiative called Makkalukaga Naam, which focuses on helping flood victims by repairing homes, building after-school tuition centres and restoring livelihoods.

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