Rehabilitation brick by brick

V. Venkatasubramanian

Relief project for tsunami-hit Dalits in 17 villages

German Agro Action, European Commission for Humanitarian Aid support the project The aim is to provide cement flooring and individual toilets

KANCHEEPURAM: The December 2004 tsunami may not have damaged their homes, but it has indirectly shattered their livelihood.

Before the devastation, many Dalit families living in hamlets located at a safe distance from the coast made a living by buying fish auctioned by fishermen. They would sell them in markets in the interior of Kancheepuram district. Some of them were inland fisherfolk or workers in the saltpans in the district. But their economy dependent on the fishermen was thrown out of gear after the tsunami.

In the first 12 -18 months after the tsunami, there was a lull in fishing, especially owing to the fear psychosis suffered by the fishermen. But even now, the locals say the quantum of catch was low owing to the changes in the patterns of fish breeding.

The silting of the estuaries has affected the breeding of prawns, crabs and other backwater fish varieties.

The Dalit families, which relied upon marine or backwater fishing, found themselves on a sticky wicket as they did not know any other job to do, said R. Ramesh, project manager, Centre for Sustainable Human Development (CSHD), Kalpakkam field office.

A rehabilitation project for Dalit families in 17 villages in the district was launched by the CSHD in March 2006 with support from German Agro Action and the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid, and guidance from the district administration.

The aim was to replace mud walls of the huts with brick, provide cement flooring and individual toilets, create infrastructure for improvement of water and sanitation and implementing livelihood programmes.

A cash-for-work programme was organised for 438 persons. Under it, casuarina saplings were planted on 75 acres of wasteland. In addition, 12 income generation programmes, including readymade garment manufacturing, embroidery, driving training, shop and mobile canteen, were launched to help 313 persons.

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