NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - It could take “years” for hundreds of thousands of people in southeastern India to rebuild their livelihoods after a devastating cyclone wiped out their entire plantations of cash crops last month, aid workers warned on Tuesday.
Cyclone Thane killed 51 people when it struck the Indian state of Tamil Nadu around dawn on December 30. The storm disrupted the lives of more than one million people, flattening homes, destroying crops and causing power outages for days.
With wind speeds of up to 135 kmph (83 mph) and tidal surges reaching 1.5 metres (5 feet), the cyclone forced coastal fishing and farming communities into relief shelters.
But as work gets underway to repair damaged homes, aid workers say there are longer-term concerns over how farming communities, in particular, will survive.
“While some rice paddy has been lost, that is not such a problem as that can be re-planted the next season,” Joseph Sahayam, from the Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), said by phone from Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s state capital.
“The issue is the slow-growing crops like coconut trees, jackfruit and cashews - these take many years to grow so farmers will need some kind of support to help them generate an income to keep them going until then.”
Thane moved in from the Bay of Bengal making landfall around dawn that day, primarily lashing the coastal district of Cuddalore and the former French colonial town of Pondicherry.
Gale winds brought down telephone and power lines and uprooted trees and benches along Pondicherry’s tree-lined boulevards and promenade, while tidal waves smashed into low-lying mud-and-thatch villages along the coast.
According to recent assessments, more than 300,000 homes have been damaged, hundreds of livestock killed and rural roads damaged. The government is providing compensation to cyclone-hit communities, but local communities say it is not enough.
Aid workers say alternative livelihood projects will need to be put in place, which would be able to give quick returns.
Cash-for-work programmes such as the Indian government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) - which guarantees 100 days of work at a fixed rate for unskilled labourers - is a likely solution.
“Most of these communities were already living below the poverty line,” said Stephen Ryan, communication delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in India.
“The challenges faced in these affected districts have only been exasperated by this disaster and a long-term solution will need to be found that will go beyond the assistance and work of humanitarian organisations.”
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)
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