- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

NAGAPATTINAM, India — Displaced people in relief camps along India’s tsunami-hit Tamil Nadu coast are clamoring to return to their villages and resume work, putting pressure on the government to quickly devise a massive rehabilitation plan for the victims.

A 90-mile drive down the battered coast showed the survivors, especially fishermen, unhappy at being stuck in relief camps. They complain about poor food, appear offended by the distribution of old clothes by private charities, and are eager to begin rebuilding their lives.

“My father is dead, my house has been destroyed, and I cannot even find my boat,” said T. Ramesh, standing on a bridge alongside a huge pile of damaged boats in the large fishing harbor of Nagapattinam. This region was devastated by the tidal waves and accounts for three-quarters of the more than 8,000 officially confirmed deaths in Tamil Nadu state.

“My only hope now is if the government helps me buy a boat,” the fisherman said.

Each fishing trawler is worth $35,000, while the smaller fiberglass boats with outboard engines cost about $2,500 each. The state government has promised to help fishermen get new boats, but the total bill is expected to run into millions of dollars.

India is the only tsunami-hit country that has refused all offers of foreign aid or technical assistance. Even the U.S. Agency for International Development and Britain’s Department for International Development have been asked to stay away from the disaster areas, especially the strategically sensitive Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where major military bases are located.

At the same time, in keeping with its self-image as an emerging power, India has sent naval ships and relief supplies to nations such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia to assist in the relief effort.

But the reconstruction bill is certain to be very high. When a team of officials arrived in Tamil Nadu from New Delhi on Tuesday to assess the damage, state officials put up a demand for $1.2 billion in federal aid for the rebuilding program in about 400 coastal villages.

“At least 100,000 houses have been swept away by the tsunami,” an official said. “The immediate task, though, is to provide temporary shelters.”

G. Tiruvalarchelvan sat forlornly on the seafront in Nagapattinam, his family-owned business selling fishing nets and engine oil swept away by the tsunami.

But he considers himself lucky — the structures housing his shop and his home are intact, because these were constructed with a proper foundation. No one died in his large, extended family.

“All the houses that were destroyed, even those with brick walls and concrete roofs, did not have proper foundations,” he said. “If the government helps people rebuild, it should also ensure that the new houses are structurally sound.”

Houses, schools, boats, engines, fishing nets, kitchen utensils, stoves, schoolbooks — the list of demands from the victims of the tidal waves is a long one. “It will take at least one year for things here to come back to normal,” Mr. Tiruvalarchelvan said.

Indian army engineers helped make three boats seaworthy in Nagapattinam, and persuadeda group of fishermen on Tuesday to go fishing in the high seas for the first time after the Dec. 26 disaster.

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