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Donated tsunami fishing boats mixed blessing

October 7, 2005

By Bill Tarrant

THARANGAMBADI, India (Reuters) – New fiberglass fishing
boats stretch as far as the eye can see along the beach in this
former Danish colony in southern India, where the December 26
tsunami swept children, homes and livelihoods out to sea.

The names painted on the boats attest to the breadth of the
response to one of nature’s most ferocious episodes: Oklahoma
City Church of Christ, the Indian Temple Association of New
Jersey and the American Embassy School in New Delhi among
others.

In Tharangambadi, as well as in the rest of Nagapattinam
district, which accounted for two-thirds of the tsunami death
toll on the Indian mainland, fishing boats almost outnumber
fishermen and that is causing new problems for traumatized
communities.

“The number of fishing boats is now one-and-a-half times
what it was originally,” A. Radhakrishnan, chief administrator
of Nagapattinam district, told Reuters.

Some of the new boats have yet to hit the water.

Many more are stacked up in boatyards in the district —
for anyone who hasn’t received a boat already.

The rush to replace fishing boats in the weeks after the
tsunami killed 232,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations
– most of them in fishing communities — made sense in the
drive to restore livelihoods.

But some villages lack the labor to man the boats, some of
which have not proven to be seaworthy.

EMPLOYING CHILDREN

Head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
tsunami fisheries taskforce said an FAO inspector in Indonesia
watched the launch of donated boats that started sinking within
a half-hour.

A similar incident happened at Hut Bay on India’s Little
Andaman island in July.

“Everybody’s trying to build boats because they were given
money and they were told to build boats and help the
fishermen,” the FAO’s Lahsen Ababouch told Reuters in Sydney.

The big canoe-like boats common around the Indian Ocean rim
usually require five men to operate effectively. Now that so
many fishermen have their own boats, few want to work for their
neighbors.

“There is no labor, so they are employing their own
children and they are dropping out of school,” said social
worker Manivannan with the AVVAI Village Welfare Society in
Nagapattinam. “Alternative jobs should be given to the parents,
otherwise their children will be employed.”

In Tharangambadi, known as Tranquebar when it was a Danish
colony from 1620 to 1845, some 250 fiberglass boats — twice
the number before December 26 — were perched on the beach in
front of rows of thatched huts temporarily housing tsunami
survivors.

Less than half the boats are being used.

Some fishermen are afraid to return to the sea. Some who
have lost homes and families have sunk into depression and
alcoholism, aid workers said.

The FAO has estimated 35,000 fishermen died and 111,000
vessels were destroyed in the tsunami, which led to direct
losses of about $520 million in the fisheries sector.

Tharangambadi, whose name means “place of the singing
waves” in Tamil, was among the worst-hit fishing communities
along the Tamil Nadu coast, losing 251 people to the monster
waves.

Most of them were children and their grandparents left at
home that Sunday morning while their parents went to an annual
festival further inland.

ALTERNATIVE LIVELIHOODS

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish,
feed him for a lifetime. It’s an apt proverb for the massive
aid effort since the December 26 tsunami.

Give a fisherman a boat and you may not feed his family
some days, given the seasonal vagaries of the fishermen’s life
and the post-tsunami disruptions, aid workers say. Give him or
his wife an alternative livelihood and you may give him a
better income for life.

Vocational training centers have sprouted up in picturesque
Tharangambadi, with its 18th century Danish fort, old colonial
homes and churches adjacent to tsunami shelters and a crumbling
14th century Shiva temple on the beach.

Julius Thuyamani, a 24 year-old software engineer from
Chennai volunteering for a local activist group, is turning an
old dry goods shop into an Internet cafe, which women are being
trained to run.

The shop is around the corner from the restored house of a
German missionary who brought the first printing press to India
in 1701.

The Indian branch of Philadelphia-based Hope Foundation,
which donated dozens of boats to Tharangambadi, is building a
school, a community center and a vocational training school.

Young women will be given computer and tailoring training;
young men masonry and home appliance repair.

“They need employment opportunities, and in order to have
that, they need skills — technical or clerical,” said
Chandrasekaran, Hope’s project director in Tharangambadi.

Radhakrishnan, the administrative chief, said government is
working with the NGOs to change the socioeconomic landscape,
while the physical damage is being repaired.

Fish and fruit processing industries will be set up to
provide new jobs in an area of mostly subsistence farmers and
fishermen.

“This tragedy has to be turned into an opportunity,” he
said.




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