So far the focus of relief efforts has been on the devastation caused to humans in the tragic event of the tsunami and little attention has been given to the environmental impact that this disaster had along the Tamil Nadu coast.
To deal with this aspect of rehabilitation, the Auroville Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Project has put together a team of people to carry out forestation work and basic environmental education for about 20 villages along the Villupuram coast. It is hoped that the construction of an ecological barrier will break the force of future natural disasters such as tsunamis and cyclones.
A list of saline species, both exotic and indigenous, and their survival rates was collected from Auroville’s worst-affected tsunami community, Eternity.
Walter and Bala from Shakti nursery and Saravanan from Aranya will be responsible for the task of managing the nursery. It is estimated that 600 trees can be planted per acre and, for even denser vegetation, 1200 per acre. An average area of 5 acres per village is expected and more areas around houses if there is space. Eventually it is hoped that villagers will be able to construct their own nurseries to help with future planting.
Planting is expected to begin in September. Until then much preparatory work is needed. Species suitable for different areas will be used including a 10m-wide stretch along high tide water line, exposed beach, protected beach, dunes, inland creeks and around houses.
We have now started the challenging task of meeting with paalam members and panchayats to determine what land is available. This involves general discussions, a separate survey for each village and planned land-usage mapping (PLUM) done with both men and women. If needed, we may also request land from the government.
While the main priorities of villagers is housing and boats, we have received assurance in meetings so far that full support will be given for any green work we wish to carry out and that the local population desires trees with a long life span and fruit trees.
The long term project will also involve basic environmental awareness and training for locals in order to increase their interest and the care given to plantations. Ultimately this should be a project that we can leave with the villagers in full confidence that they can continue successfully without our support.
A pilot programme of one month for six villages has been sanctioned with a budget of almost Rs 90,000. These villages are Chinnamudaliarchavady, Periyakalapet, Gangacherrikulam, Chettinagar and Anundmadhai. The long-term two-year project will start in the middle of the year, using the Auroville Tsunami Centre’s target area.