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Wednesday 12 January 2005

Beyond Tsunami : Saving Lives and Livelihoods

On January 10, the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation hosted a consulation for India's National Commission on Farmers. The following is the set of recommendations for alleviating the distress of farming and fishing families, published by Professor Swaminathan following the consultation. -ac

1. The Prime Minister has rightly stressed that every calamity presents also an opportunity for equipping ourselves to face with greater confidence and competence similar calamities in the future. The Government of India has announced that a Tsunami Early Warning System as well as a National Disaster Management Authority will be set up soon.

2. Relief measures are in progress on an unprecedented scale, thanks to intensive and extensive efforts by the Central and State Governments, national and international Civil Society Organisations (NGOs), Private and Public Sector Industry, Academia, the mass media and bilateral and multilateral donors.

3. Fifteen days after the titanic Tsunami hit our coast and islands, we are in a position to begin rehabilitation efforts in three time dimensions.

A. Immediate (January – March, 2005)

  • Water, shelter, sanitation, health and revival of livelihoods.
    Psychological rehabilitation
  • Repair of catamarans
  • Achieving convergence and synergy among all on-going programmes with similar objectives (this is an urgent task)

B. Medium Term (2005-07):

  • Ecological rehabilitation
  • Agronomic rehabilitation
  • Economic rehabilitation
  • Disaster preparedness, mitigation and management


C. Long Term (2005-10):

  • Strengthening environmental defense systems
  • Enlarging opportunities for sustainable livelihoods based on a pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-women orientation to technology development and dissemination.
  • Improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of agriculture and fisheries.

A. Immediate:

Psychological Rehabilitation:

It will be necessary to form teams of men and women psychiatrists and trauma Counsellors who can cover the severely affected areas during the next few weeks to bring comfort and confidence to those who have lost their dear and near ones. Fishermen will have to be assisted in overcoming their fear of the sea. Farmers also need technical help and moral support. The professional / counseling sessions could be organized by appropriate civil society organizations in association with Panchayats. Those living in relief camps need particular attention. Destitute women should be rehabilitated in their own community and should not be herded in destitute homes, either old or new.

Livelihood Rehabilitation:

A Special Food for Livelihood Revival and Eco-protection programme should be initiated immediately in all the affected areas. Such an open-ended Food for Work Programme, which can be sanctioned for a year in the first instance, should aim to create assets for the Tsunami ravaged families, and should not solely be community centred, as in the case of normal Food for Work programmes. The concept of work under this special programme should include items such as:

a. Rebuilding houses
b. Repairing and building fishing boats and vessels
c. Rebuilding jetties, access roads and market yards
d. Rebuilding schools
e. Rebuilding health care centres
f. Establishing day care centers and crèches for children
g. Eco-restoration programmes like rehabilitation of mangrove wetlands and reclamation of soils inundated with sea water.

The precise priorities can be developed for each village in consultation with local Panchayats and affected families. It is suggested that about 300,000 tonnes of food grains may be allotted immediately for this special programme which will allow Tsunami affected families to have access to food while they are rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, as well as essential infrastructure for human resource development.

B. Medium and Long-term:

These programmes should cover all families along the coast – both fisher and farming families, including the families of those who have no assets like land, livestock or fish pond. They fall under three broad groups.

i. Strengthening the ecological foundations of sustainable human security:

This programme will include the following:

a. Initiating a coastal Bio-shield movement along coastal areas, involving the raising of mangrove forests, plantations of casuaria, salicornia, laucaena, atriplex, palms, bamboo and other tree species and halophytes which can grow near the sea. They will serve as speed-breakers under conditions of coastal storms, cyclones and Tsunami. They will in addition serve as carbon sinks, since they will help to enhance carbon sequestration and thereby contribute to reducing the growing imbalance between carbon emissions and absorption. Mangroves are very efficient in carbon sequestration. They also promote sustainable fisheries by releasing nutrients in the water. In addition, they will provide additional income and make coastal communities eligible for carbon credit.

The Coastal Bio-shield can also involve agro-forestry programmes, like the intercropping of casuarina with hybrid pigeon pea (cajanus cajan) or Red gram, to be undertaken by farming families. Thus, the Bio-shield movement will confer multiple benefits to local communities as well as to the country as a whole.

b. Promote Peoples’ Participation in the conservation and enhancement of mangrove and other coastal wetlands, as well as coral reefs and coastal and marine biodiversity.

A Participatory Mangrove Forest Management Programme on the basis of the guidelines already developed by MSSRF should be introduced. The Joint Mangrove Forest Management is based on the successful model of Joint Forest Management already in progress in most parts of India. The super cyclone havoc in Orissa and the current Tsunami tragedy have created widespread awareness among the people on the role Mangrove forests play in reducing the fury of cyclonic storms and tidal waves.

c. Promote the organization of Community nurseries of Mangrove species and other appropriate tree species chosen under the coastal Bio-shield and agro-forestry programmes. Techniques for raising such nurseries have been standardized by MSSRF. Community nurseries can be raised under the auspices of both Forest Departments and Panchayats. Where appropriate, such nurseries can be raised on the basis of a buy-back arrangement. Farm families can raise nurseries / produce seeds of crops chosen for the agro-forestry programme.

d. Regeneration of Fisheries and fostering a sustainable fisheries programme:

The new fishing vessels and nets should be designed in a manner that they do not disrupt the fish life cycle by catching young ones and also do not destroy sea grass beds, which serve as habitats for dugongs. The calamity provides an opportunity for achieving a paradigm shift from unsustainable to sustainable fisheries.

e. Raising artificial coral reefs:

The work done in the Gulf of Mannar area indicates that artificial reefs can stimulate fish breeding and revival. These can be laid and managed by fisher self-help groups (SHGs). NABARD can develop a special programme to promote the growth of such SHGs.
f. Managing Marine Biosphere Reserves in a Trusteeship Mode:

A trusteeship pattern of management of coastal bio-resources should be fostered. This will help local communities and government departments to manage unique biological resources in a trusteeship mode, ie, people considering themselves as trustees of such assets with a commitment to conserve them for posterity. A beginning has been made in the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve, but this system needs to get institutionalized all along the coast as well as in the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep group of islands.

g. Housing for Fisher families:

The new houses should respect the 500 meter restriction and should be ecologically designed. If all fisher folk had been given housing sites on the landward side of coastal roads, the death toll as a result of Tsunami would have been much lower. Anticipatory action against sea level rise also demands a human security driven design of coastal habitations. A group of architects should be assembled for this purpose immediately.

h. Construction of sea walls and dykes:

The construction of permanent sea walls can be taken up in places where there is sea erosion due to heavy anthropogenic pressures. The locations for such non-living barriers should be determined on the basis of a carefully conducted erosion vulnerability analysis.

i. Agronomic rehabilitation : Reclamation of salinised soils:

Sea water ingression has led to soil salinisation in some areas. A scientific Team consisting of representatives of Agricultural Universities, ICAR (Central Soil Salinity Research Institute) and CSIR may be set up to survey the areas, study the nature and severity of the problem and suggest remedial measures. This should be done within the next two months, so that farmers are able to resume normal farm operations without losing a crop season.
j. Code of Conduct for Coastal Ecological Security:

The serious loss of life and property caused by Tsunami highlights the vision and wisdom of Smt Indira Gandhi when nearly 24 years ago, she took steps to ensure that no permanent construction is permitted within 500 meters of the high tide. We should not only strengthen this national resolve, but also develop a code of conduct for construction beyond 500 meters. Such a code can consist of a package of rewards for initiatives in the areas of sunward oriented buildings, energy efficient construction, use of wind / tidal / solar energy, rainwater harvesting, use of local construction material, effluent treatment and use of biodegradable material. The coastal ecological security literacy programme should bring to the attention of builders the opportunities now available for mainstreaming ecology in building design and construction.

k. Vulnerability Mapping:

Based on an analysis of 100-year data, the areas prone to cyclones and other natural disasters can be mapped. Priority may be given to such areas in erecting bio-shields and in undertaking eco-restoration and erosion prevention measures. Agricultural vulnerability to potential changes in sea level should also be mapped. This task should be taken up immediately by a Consortium of R & D institutions and IMD to be set up by the Departments of Ocean Development and Science and Technology, Government of India.

k. Sustainable Management of Coastal Land and Water Resources:

Scientific land and water use planning will have to be done to prevent salinisation of ground water. Land and water use patterns based on principles of ecology, economics and social and gender equity will have to be prepared by Panchayats with the help of ICAR ( National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning), the concerned Farm University and the Forest, Fisheries and Agriculture Departments of State Governments.

ii. Rehabilitation of Livelihoods and fostering sustainable livelihood security:

The sustainable livelihood security strategy should be based on the principles of social inclusion and gender equity. They should cover both fisher and land based farming communities as well as landless labour families. The following steps are needed:

a. Aquarian Reform:

This is essential to foster harmony in the use of living aquatic resources by artesenal fishermen operating catamarans, and commercial families operating mechanized fishing boats and trawlers. The major aim of the Aquarian policy should be:

  • Conservation of living aquatic resources
  • Sustainable use
  • Equitable sharing of benefits
  • Harmony between artesenal and mechanized fishing.


b. Integrated capture and culture fisheries : Sea Water Farming:

Fisher families, particularly women, can take to the rearing of prawns and suitable salt tolerant fish species in canals along the sea coast, using low external input sustainable aquaculture (LEISA) techniques. Agro-aqua farms involving the concurrent cultivation of tree species and rearing of fish and prawns can be promoted to enhance income and employment opportunities. The Tsunami tragedy should lead to the emergence of new sea farming communities, well versed in both production and post-harvest technologies, quality management and value addition.

c. Establishment of Coastal Biovillages:

The economy of coastal villages can be strengthened through the biovillage model of rural development. This involves the sustainable use of natural resources and introduction of market driven non-farm enterprises as well as to value addition to primary products. It also involves a paradigm shift from unskilled to skilled work, resulting in the addition of economic value to time and labour. The micro-enterprises chosen for being undertaken by SHGs with micro-credit support should be based on both value addition to under-utilised resources and market demand. The coastal Biovillage movement to be fostered by Panchayati raj institutions should be based on a pro-nature, pro-poor and pro-women orientation to enterprise development and adoption. An important component of coastal biovillages should be the establishment of Aquaculture Estates which can help to confer the power of scale to fisher families in the production, processing and marketing of fish.

d. Establishment of a coastal grid of Farm Schools and Demonstration Centres:

Farm and Fisher families practising the use of natural resources based on principles of ecological economics can be chosen for establishing Farm Schools. Lateral learning among farmers and fisher families will be more effective than formal institutional learning. Both can go together. Demonstration of environmentally sound sea farming techniques should also be organized.

iii. Network of Rural Knowledge Centres (RKC):

The crucial importance of timely information is now widely recognized in minimizing the loss of life caused by disasters like Tsunami. It is therefore essential that a network of Rural Knowledge Centres is established all along the coast as soon as possible. Such RKCs will use in an integrated way the internet, community (FM) radio, cable TV and the vernacular press. They will provide both generic and dynamic information and will help to disseminate locale-specific and demand driven information. They will also serve as an integral part of the National Early Warning system. They can empower fisher, farm and other coastal inhabitants with information on their entitlements to government programmes and attend to other essential needs relating to education, health, weather and market.

The following four requirements need concurrent attention for launching a rural knowledge revolution.

a. Connectivity: BSNL and other appropriate institutions can help to establish broad band connectivity. Both wired and wireless technologies can be used.

b. Content: A Digital Gateway for coastal ecological and livelihood security will have to be established by a consortium of content providers and data generators. The Gateway should be guided by the priority needs of local fisher and farm families.

c. Capacity Building: This will have to be undertaken under the overall umbrella of the Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy for Rural Prosperity and the National Alliance for Mission 2007 : Every Village a Knowledge Centre. Atleast one woman and man will have to be trained in each village as Master Trainers. They will be elected Fellows of the Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy.

Training should be imparted in disaster preparedness and management, as well as in trade and quality literacy. Food safety issues and codex alimentarius standards should be highlighted in the training programmes. The policy support needed for this programme has already been spelt out in the report of NCF titled, “Serving Farmers and Saving Farming” submitted to the Government of India in December, 2004.

Even if there is an efficient early warning system, the information will have to reach the unreached, particularly fishermen in sea. Therefore, a network of community radio (FM) centers will have to become an integral part of the coastal area knowledge connectivity.

d. Care and Management: The RKC should be located in a public space like a school or panchayat building, so that there is equity in access. The RKC can be managed by an ICT-SHG with support from NABARD.

iv. Resource Centres for Capacity Building:

There is need for establishing a network of capacity building centers along the coast. A Resource Centre for Mangrove Forest Conservation, rehabilitation and expansion is urgently needed. There is need for preparing training modules in local languages on a wide range of topics relating to both ecological and livelihood security. Training programmes will have to be organized for SHGs who wish to take up work in the areas of raising community nurseries, eco-restoration, reclamation of salt affected soils, market-led enterprise development and managing Rural Knowledge Centres.

Education, social mobilization and regulation will have to become the pillars of the coastal ecological and livelihood security systems. The RKCs will provide an opportunity to professionals for sustained engagement with local communities.

v. Conclusions:

The Tsunami disaster has provided a unique opportunity for launching through public-private sector partnership an integrated psychological, ecological, agronomic and livelihood rehabilitation programme. To succeed, such programmes should be people centred and managed by local communities with appropriate guidance and support from government and panchayati raj institutions. Government agencies, academia, and local communities should jointly develop Integrated Coastal Zone Management plans which would help to transform sustainable development from a desirable objective into a practical reality.


M S Swaminathan
10 January, 2005
2 Comments Post a Comment
Anonymous Anonymous said :

There's one thing the world must remember: most of those who are affected are often living in poverty - whether the people are Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists, it's not important. They need us now.

And there's one thing the world must forget: the Arabs. The stinginess of this group only shows their selfishness. Enough said.

Wed Jan 12, 10:23:00 AM IST  
Anonymous Anonymous said :

The M S Swaminathan Research Foundation publishes: "The Prime Minister has rightly stressed that every calamity presents also an opportunity for equipping ourselves to face with greater confidence and competence similar calamities in the future."

It is sad and unfortunate that those who could have done something to prevent the loss of life and property to tens of thousands affected by this disaster chose to wait until after this disaster to do something about it to prepare for "similar calamities in the future." And though obviously doing something now is better than doing nothing, why is it that governments and other organizations that have the ability to do something in advance of things like this don't? Did they not have science information available beforehand that would suggest that an earthquake was possible in this region? Why is everyone just now saying "it would have been good if there had been an early warning system in place" beforehand to prevent the loss of live that occurred? And don't tell me I'm full of s^#t until you have walked in the sandals of someone who has lost their entire family in this disaster.

The same was true for 9/11. It's a sad indictment on our world society.

Thu Jan 13, 03:37:00 AM IST