Indian fisher-women regaining their livelihoods after the 2004 tsunami

Published: 26 December 2014 10:42 CET

By Maude Froberg

Guntu Yerramma has a strong relationship with the sea. Living so close to the shore, she wakes every morning to the sound of the swell crashing onto the beaches.

“The sea is our mother. She gives life to the fishing villages,” she said. “The tsunami was the first time she was beating us.”

Here, in Magadalapadu village – like so many other communities on southeastern coast of India – fishing is a way of life for so many. When the deadly tsunami wave swept in on 26 December, 2004, the impact on southern and eastern coast of India, and the Andaman and Nicobar Island was disastrous. Over 16,000 people died, and almost 3 million people were affected. A total of 83,788 boats were damaged, along with other fishing equipment.

Since the fishermen and people living in these communities were relatively poor and came from low castes, they became subject for interventions by the government and humanitarian organizations. With time it became apparent that one group remained neglected: Fisherwomen.

Today encountering a mustard-yellow auto rickshaw with iceboxes packed with fish on the road in the coastal districts of Nellore, Prakasam, Srikakulam and East Godavari may seem an ordinary sight. Yet, it isn’t. Here a remarkable intervention has taken place. It’s the livelihood support by Indian Red Cross Society in partnership with Spanish Red Cross.  

When assessing the needs, it became clear that in order to improve livelihoods, new technologies would be beneficial to process and handle fish. In short, ice boxes instead of bamboo baskets, plastic curing tubs instead of unhygienic cement, smoking bids instead of a bed of bamboo in thatched houses, drying platforms instead of the sand, storages for fish instead of open space.

Kasulemma, a widow and a mother of five, is shuffling a smoking bin filled with nethallu – or anchovy – a tasty, small fish used for curries.

“I’m very happy with the smoking bin. It’s quicker than using the bamboo, and my earnings have gone up,” she says, while tasting one of the fishes.

Every Wednesday and Saturday she travels several kilometers to market to sell her products. To be able to also store the fish is crucial. Wasted fish means lower income for an already vulnerable community. The iceboxes and the storage facilities have improved the way of working. Also supplying auto rickshaws for transports is part of the intervention, as training in marketing and negotiating skills.

Up to now 8,141 from 141 coastal villages have directly benefitted from the programme, in which volunteers have played an important role as well. Dr. S.P. Agarwal, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society said the results of the project would be covered in a forthcoming WHO article. "We are very happy to have undertaken long-term livelihood recovery projects in the tsunami-affected states over the last one decade. We have also been able to publish our results in scientific peer reviewed journals, which adds on to the evidence-base our humanitarian work must have." he said.

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