Fishermen and Farmers Lose Livelihoods on East India Coast

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Fishermen and Farmers Lose Livelihoods on East India Coast

By: Sumana Mani, Compassion India Communications Specialist   |   Posted: January 13, 2005

Compassion Offers Relief and Hope after Tsunami Hits
In the fishing village of Pallepalem, near Chennai, India, a child sits alone in stunned disbelief on an overturned catamaran among damaged fishing vessels, nets and debris that were slammed ashore from a killer tsunami. The tsunami, triggered by a massive undersea earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale, hit on December 26, 2004 and struck much of South Asia.

December 26, 2004 began like most other days for Mr. Venkateshwarlu, the father of Compassion-sponsored child Thammu Valiyah. Venkateshwarlu is a fisherman in the seaside village of Pallepalem, India -- home to Compassion's Holy Land Child Development Center (IN-459) where Thammu attends. He had just finished a long night of fishing and was on the damp, cold beach washing his nets. That's when he saw the wave.

Village protected by embankment

"A huge wave took my boat out to sea. I ran for my life," Mr. Venkateshwarlu says. "The second wave deposited it on the rocks. It has three holes in it and my nets are (destroyed). I'm currently doing a temporary caulking job on my boat so it can become watertight again."

Were it not for the protection from a natural embankment that Pallepalem is built on, the village would have been swallowed whole by the tsunami. The tidal wave was the result of a massive earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale that hit the coast off Banda Aceh in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The quake and resulting tsunami have claimed over 155,000 lives in Asia.

Although Pallepalem escaped extensive human casualties, the village sustained massive damage that has tested the resolve of its citizens. The tsunami left 10 dead in the area, including a Compassion-assisted child's cousin. The father of another Compassion-assisted child was among the injured. In India, December 26, 2004 is now known as "Black Sunday." 

Still struggling

Home to some 2,000 families, with 300 children in Compassion's program, Pallepalem families depend on the fishing trade and agriculture for their livelihoods. The average family earns about $11 (US) per month in this primarily Hindu community. But even 10 days into the tragedy, the beach was still littered with pale blue, green and white nylon balls of fluff -- the tangled, torn remainder of what used to be fishing nets. Dozens of boats were tossed around the beach and deposited haphazardly on the embankment.

Boat owners are not the only ones who have suffered: parents who are daily-wage earners on boats belonging to others have also lost their employment. There are no boats to go out to sea on and no other means of livelihood.

The small farming community in Pallepalem was hit hard as well. Just beyond the village front, the embankment ends and slopes down into the fields. Subba Rao rents a three-acre field to grow peanuts and was there with his family watering his crops when the tsunami hit. "I've lost my entire crop and seven of my 20 sprinklers," he says. Rao's 10-year-old daughter, Syamala, attends Compassion's Holy Land Child Development Center.

The waves had also taken a fiberglass boat that usually requires about 10 men to move and deposited it 500 meters inland in front of Rao's field.

Responding with hope

Compassion has seven projects that are located either on or a short distance from the Indian seacoast. Emergency relief of food, clean water and clothes provided by the ministry has gone a long way in easing the pain of the disaster. But daunting tasks lie ahead to provide hope, life and a future.

Compassion staff have prayed with affected families and created a detailed list of their needs following the disaster. Staff are currently in the process of developing a plan to rebuild the homes of Compassion-assisted children, which were washed away or damaged in the flooding. This plan will be in coordination with the Indian government, which also seeks to assist its citizens.

In addition, Compassion is working to replace fishing nets and in some cases repair or replace damaged boats in hopes of restoring families' livelihoods.

Please continue to pray for all of those affected by the tsunami.