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News & Events
Tsunami-hit Tamil Nadu looks up
By Sunil Raman - BBC News, Tamil Nadu

Six months after the tsunami devastated large parts of the south-eastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the landscape of the affected region is fast returning to normal.

Gleaming new boats are beached on the shore, boat-making sheds have sprung up all along the coast from the capital Madras to the most affected district, Nagappattinam.

There is optimism in the air although concern about the future bothers many of the affected people.

Driving down the east coast road, along the Bay of Bengal, one cannot miss newly-painted signs of boat makers, freshly painted boats drying in the sun and a large number of banners welcoming one to shelters of tsunami-affected people.

We build four boats in a week and there is a growing demand for fibreglass boats - Pakri, boat maker.

A walk towards the beach at Kovalamkuppam shows how much has changed in the last six months.

New mechanized, fibreglass boats and catamarans fight for space on the sandy beach, washed by white surf. There is little sign of the devastation caused by the tsunami, except for the existence of temporary shelters.

Building boats
Gajendran has a new motorized catamaran.

"Fishing has resumed and I am able to earn up to 200 rupees ($4) a day.

"Though I am unable to get big fish that would fetch me a better price, I am not complaining. Life is okay now," he says.

The sun is up and the boats at sea are getting tossed around by waves. But the noise of the waves drowned out by the sound of welding metal from a boat making shed.

Under a temporary roof, 15 people are busy giving final touches to a fibreglass boat.

"We build four boats in a week and there is a growing demand for fibreglass boats.

It costs 75,000 rupees (around $1,700) but everyone wants to own one," says Pakri as he supervises the welding work.

Pakri was a fisherman till the tsunami took away his means of livelihood.

Now he plans to work for seven months with the boat makers after which he plans to go back to fishing.

They expect by then to have met the demand for new boats.

New opportunities
Although the tsunami caused widespread destruction, it has also led to new opportunities.

Govindan, a catamaran maker, is in big demand these days.

Known for his expertise in carving out logs of wood into gentle catamarans, Govindan's hands have been full for weeks.

He says that after the tsunami the cost of making a catamaran has increased by 500 rupees ($11) and he is paid $88 for every catamaran he makes.

"I take five days to make one catamaran," he says.

Another man to have taken compensation from the tsunami is 30-year-old Shekhar.

He used to be the owner of a small catamaran. So he could not venture very far out to sea and always returned with a small catch.

Today, he is the proud owner of a motorized fibreglass boat donated to him by a German charity.

Housing delays
Aid workers say the relief and reconstruction effort in Tamil Nadu has generally been good.

All attention was focused on the fishing community and the farmers were ignored - Paramsivam, farmer.

But they say not enough has been done to provide homes for the victims.

Thousands of families continue to live in temporary shelters made with tin sheets that heat up fast in the summer sun.

The state government also took a long time to come out with a clear rehabilitation policy.

Then there is the issue of resettlement in the areas affected by the tsunami.

A district administration official said that a dialogue between affected communities and government officials is underway.

"It is not as simple as many thought. There is diverse opinion on rebuilding homes in old areas.

"Many do no want to resettle near the coast and for that land has to be acquired in the interior [of Tamil Nadu] by the administration," he said.

Farmers feel left out
If the issue of permanent housing continues to be a nagging problem, the government has just begun to focus on the problems of the farming community.

Around 5,000 hectares of agricultural land became useless when seawater flooded the farms.

Paramsivam, 65, can no longer cultivate his two-acre farm because of increased salinity.

"All attention was focused on the fishing community and the farmers were ignored. I am in debt and cannot repay it till my farm land is ready for cultivation," he says.

Paramsivam and many like him are working as farm labourers to earn a living.

Bhuvaneswari is an agriculture scientist working with the Covenant Centre for Development, which along with UK charity Oxfam is trying to make 1,000 acres of affected land cultivable.

She says that the government took five months to pay compensation to affected farmers.

"The farm sector was faced with a crisis that worsened after tsunami," she says.

Only now, she says are the problems of farmers getting the attention of the government.

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