Tsunami Victims

Tsunami's impact

on India

Brandon Cramer cramerbd@uwec.edu
Part of Waves of Devastation, a class website on the Indian Ocean Tsunami & Global Environmental Injustice, produced by students of Geography 378 (International Environmental Problems & Policy) at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, USA, Spring 2005.


    The earthquake and resulting tsunami in the Indian Ocean on December 26th, 2004 had a devastating effect on India. According to the Indian government, almost 11,000 people died in the tsunami and over 5,000 are missing and feared dead (Ministry of Home Affairs). It is estimated that 380,000 Indians have been displaced by the disaster and reconstruction is expected to cost more than 1.2 billion dollars (World Bank). The areas hardest hit by the tsunami were the southeastern coast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


    Tsunami Map

    The Andaman and Nicobar Islands

    Andaman and Nicobar Islands Map

    The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a territory of India located in the Indian Ocean along the southeastern portion of the Bay of Bengal, near the epicenter of the original 9.0 earthquake. Both island groups were not only devastated by the tsunami, but also by the earthquake and several aftershocks that occurred near the islands in the following days. The death toll from the tsunami in the islands is believed be around 2,000, accounting for a large percentage of India’s total casualties. Most of the still 5,000 Indians still missing and presumed dead were from the islands, so the actual death toll may be much higher (Wikipedia).

    The Nicobar Islands were particularly affected by the tsunami. According to the Territory Police Chief S.B. Doel, one in five people living on the islands had been injured or killed by the tsunami (India Times). The islands of Great Nicobar and Car Nicobar experienced widespread devastation because of their general flatness. Some smaller islands in the Nicobars have completely vanished and others have changed shape, such as Trinket, which split into two parts after the tsunami hit. Saltwater intrusion has also occurred on many islands, destroying farmland and sources of freshwater. Chowra Island (population 1,500) lost two- thirds of its people in the aftermath of the tsunami. On Car Nicobar, one hundred members of the Indian Air Force and their families perished when the waves submerged the local air base (Yahoo).

    Destruction on Car Nicobar after the tsunami

    Communication lines with the Indian government were completely knocked out after the tsunami and many roads and runways were completely washed out, limiting the amount of relief aid that could reach the islands. The Indian government also refused international support on Car Nicobar because of the presence of a military base on the island, which largely delayed the distribution of food, water, and medical supplies to local people. Hundreds of people on the islands were forced to live off of coconuts, bananas, and food packets dropped from planes for days until relief agencies and military forces could reach the islands. Currently, thousands of settlers on the islands have moved back to the Indian mainland because of the intolerable conditions and fear of another tsunami (BBC 1).

    Most of the deaths in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were recent settlers or immigrants. However, the 28,000 indigenous people of the islands mostly escaped the disaster. Many tribes that live on the islands such as the Onge, Jarawa, Sentinelese, and Shompen are regarded as some of the most primitive in the world and have little contact with the outside world. Oral traditions have been passed from generation to generation, telling tribes to move into the hills or elevated areas if the earth shakes. The story of the indigenous tribes’ survival of the tsunami may lead to other problems however. The arrival of international reporters and aid workers may bring new diseases to the tribes, who do not have the medication or immunity to survive a widespread epidemic. The number of casualties among some tribes is still largely unknown because they live in relatively remote regions and tend to avoid outside contact. For example, the Indian military reports that the Sentinelese shot arrows at a relief helicopter trying to land near one of their villages and the Shompen have fled into the forest when planes and helicopters fly overhead (BBC 2).

    The Indian Mainland

    Areas most affected by tsunami

    The tsunami hit the Indian mainland roughly two hours after the earthquake. The waves completely leveled villages and devastated cities along the southeastern coast, resulting in over 9,000 deaths. The vast majority of the casualties came from the state of Tamil Nadu (8,000), although Kerala also lost an estimated 200 people. Nagapattinam district was the worst hit region of Tamil Nadu, accounting for over half of the deaths (5,500) from the tsunami on the Indian mainland (Wikipedia).

    Perhaps the people most affected by the tsunami were the local fishermen (See Fishing). Eighty percent of the people who were affected by the tsunami came from fishing communities and over 50,000 fishing vessels were damaged by the waves (World Bank). Several fishing villages in Tamil Nadu were completely destroyed, nearly wiping out the whole population in some areas. Thousands of fisherman lost their boats and other fishing equipment in the disaster. In Nagapattinam, only three of the 15,000 vessels escaped damage. Indian officials estimate that it will cost 125 million dollars to repair the ships and replace fishing equipment (BBC 3).

    Damaged fishing boats

    The fishermen in Tamil Nadu further experienced problems when the price of fish in markets dropped substantially in the days and weeks after the tsunami. People were afraid of the eating the fish because they thought the fish may have fed off dead bodies in the water and became contaminated with disease. Scientists tried to downplay claims of disease by telling Indians that the tsunami would have stirred up nutrients on the ocean floor, creating new sources of food for sealife and decreasing their desire to feed off of bodies. Although most of these fears were unrealistic, the demand for fish in the region declined by 30 percent after the tsunami, which only hurt the relief effort futher in the region (CNN).

    Most of the fishermen and people living in the fishing villages are relatively poor and come from low castes in Indian society. When the fishing industry haulted in the area after the tsunami, the people not only lost their primary source of income but also a substantial portion of their diet. Those fishermen who were able to take their boats out found that prime fishing spots were unproductive due to changes in the ocean floor. Sand brought in from the tsunami also covered many coastal coral reefs and limited the number of fish caught in those areas. Thankfully, the Indian Government was able to move into the region fairly quickly with relief supplies to prevent widespread disease and famine.

    The primary issue now in the fishing villages is how to repair the fishing boats and equipment and rebuild the economy. Many villagers are wary of the rebuilding effort because they feel that politicians are trying to buy their votes rather than actually caring about their personal well-being. The government has not stated a clear policy for rebuilding the villages and no organization exists to truly represent fishing communities, making it difficult for the government to know exactly what the people need. A massive rebuilding effort has begun in coastal villages, but most are built on a large project oriented basis, and rarely consider the individual needs of people or communities (The Hindu). People from the fishing villages are now concerned that they will once again be ignored by politicians and government officials after the clean-up process and elections have concluded.

    One of the more interesting outcomes of the tsunami occurred near Mahabalipuram, India . For generations, local people had told stories about an ancient port city known as Seven Pagodas along the east coast of India, although little archaeological evidence could be found. The sand along the coast was thought to cover up much of the ancient city, but after the tsunami hit, many treasures of the fabled city were became visible for the first time in 1,500 years. Local people discovered remnants of large temples and huge statues such as elephants, lions, and flying horses in the days following the disaster. The water level along the coast receded dramatically before the tsunami, revealing to many fishermen that the city extends well into the ocean. The new discovery has brought a number of archaeologists and tourists to the area to observe and study the ancient city, helping the local economy and rebuilding effort (CBS News).

    Ancient statues uncovered by the tsunami


    The Future

    The Indian government has also pledged $29 million to develop a tsunami early warning system to prevent such a large loss of life from ever happening again. The United States has agreed to work alongside the Indian government to place roughly 20 data buoys around the Indian Ocean to alert scientists of a possible tsunami. It is estimated that the entire project will take two years to complete. The Indian Ocean system will be completely independent of the Pacific warning system in Hawaii, however the two countries will share data and scientific information to learn more about tsunamis (Vanguard).

    Rebuilding in Serudur, India

    The tsunami disaster has marked a critical turning point in history for India. When a 6.9 earthquake hit the state of Gujarat in 2001, the Indian government was vastly unprepared and relied almost exclusively on international help for the relief and cleanup effort. In the three years following the Gujarat earthquake, the economy of India grew considerably with new high tech and manufacturing moving into the country. The rapid modernization of the country has allowed it to cope with the tsunami disaster in late 2004 with little or no international aid whatsoever. India has even become a donor country, sending relief supplies to Sri Lanka.

    The change for Indians has not only been economical but also psychological. Indians are feeling more self-reliant and almost seem to look at international assistance as a burden. There have been a large number of volunteers and companies within India who have come to the southeast coast to assist the government in the cleanup effort (Kripalani). Although the relief and rebuilding of the tsunami-devastated areas has been far from perfect and sometimes ignore the local people’s needs, it is a major improvement from only three years ago. India's response to the tsunami has been a stepping-stone for the country to move out of the world's periphery.



The BBC.

1. “Migrants clamour to leave Indian islands” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4325797.stm

2. “Eerie Silence of Tamil Nadu’s Beaches” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4479297.stm

3. “Tsunami Folklore Saved Islanders” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4181855.stm

CNN. “Fish food fears spark price plug” http://www.cnn.com/2005/BUSINESS/01/09/tsunami.fishprices/index.html

CBS News. “Tsunami Revealed Lost Indian City” http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/17/world/main681440.shtml

The Hindu. “A good occasion for change” www.hinduonnet.com

The India Times. “Asia toll touches 68,000; 12,500 dead in India”http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/974230.cms

India Ministry of Home Affairs. “Tsunami Impact Report” http://www.ndmindia.nic.in/Tsunami2004/sitrep20.htm

Wikipedia. “Effect of the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquak on India” www.wikipedia.com

Kripalani, Manjeet. “ India Pulls Together amid Disaster” Business Week Online. 1/11/2005

The World Bank. "Counting the Cost: Rebuilding Lives and Property in India after the Tsunami" www.worldbank.org

Vanguard Online Edition. “ India plans tsunami alert system” “http://www.vanguardngr.com/articles/2002/world/w231122004.html

Yahoo News. “ Rescue teams near last of remote Andaman and Nicobar islands” http://in.news.yahoo.com/041229/137/2ipv4.html