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News update 14th January '05

Three buses, a few motorbikes and a couple of taxis left the Auroville Tsunami Relief Centre for Pillaichavadi, a fishing village about 10 kilometres from Auroville. The tsunami has hit here with full power, the death toll is ten people and the damaged buildings and huts are numerous. About fifty Aurovilians and guests of Auroville smash concrete and pieces of brick walls into smaller pieces, so that they can be removed. A bulldozer would be handy, but these machines are needed elsewhere. As in other villages, the villagers are initially surprised and just look. Some of them are still traumatized by the devastating power of the killer waves. But the enthusiasm of the volunteers is contagious, and soon villagers and relief workers are working side by side.

Among the labourers are twelve volunteers from the Lions Clubs in Mumbai and Chennai. “We are chartered accountants and businessmen, and one of us is working at a nuclear power plant”, says Narendra Mangal, an accountant himself. He took a week off to give his service for free. He is sweating, for he is not used to doing physical work like removing of debris, but no complaint comes from his lips. On the contrary he is smiling, for the work is for a good cause. “We are here to help the people from the coast, they are our brothers and sisters”, is Mr Mangal's opinion. “We are helping with relief work and rehabilitation, but we want to extend this to the reconstruction work in the future.” The Lions took with them a truck full of tools, rice, dhal, spices, medicines and clothes that they distribute among the fishermen.

“We are active for 19 villages on the Coromandel coast . Half of the people affected are in Tamil Nadu state and half in Pondicherry Union territory. About 2000 families lost their houses and 67 lost their lives”, explains David Storey, one of the coordinators from the Auroville Relief Centre. “The major part of our work is still cleaning up debris and distributing rice and dhal, but we will have to come up with a strategy for rehabilitation soon. The priority for the Collector is to establish temporary houses and permanent houses and he has asked us to help with that also. A possibility is to channel the rebuilding activities through Auroville Village Action, but money and human resources are the problem”. He needs long-term commitments from people to be involved in the new project. The help could include shelter, boats, nets, but also training in marketing, as much as possible within the constraints of a relief and rehabilitation project, ours will be a needs based approach. “We understand that the government of Tamil Nadu is prepared to pay for half of the houses. They are requesting that NGO's pay for the other half.”

Are there NGO's working in Tamil Nadu? David confirms: “We are in contact with the British Save the Children Fund and Concern who are based in Ireland . They are quite interested to participate in the projects here. They need a local partner and I believe that we can match their expectations. One NGO that is also helping in this region is the Lutheran World Foundation. At present they are providing food like rice, dhal and oil, and assorted non-food items.

What problems are the team facing? “In Tamil Nadu the villagers are not so keen on cleaning up before the government assessment take place. This means that you want to help but you can't. The Pondicherry Government was in a position to respond more quickly and provided Rs 8,000 per family for temporary shelter. Another problem that occurs is that by law there should be no structures built closer than 500 metres from the high tide mark. This is a big problem for the fishermen as they don't want to leave their boats unattended on the beach. It is could create tension in the area.”

Robert Hessing for Auroville Tsunami Relief Centre