July 18, 2005

Bend, not break

A few nuggets from a trip through Tamil Nadu, six months after the tsunami.

(Note: these were part of a longer post that I have split into two, the rest is in Walls black, roofs gone below).


In Nagapattinam, we hear some astonishing numbers. After the tsunami, 560 NGOs came to work in the Nagapattinam area. Six months later, there are just 120 left, still working. Of those, about 60 are busy with housing issues, building temporary and permanent shelters. Only about 15 work with agricultural concerns, and only three of those have actual agricultural knowledge.

This speaks, too, of how the focus of relief work has been on fishermen, not farmers.


The man who alerted Naluvedapathy to the wave is one Ramakrishnan. That morning, he had climbed on a coconut palm, where he was drinking coconut water and chopping branches. The branches, he dropped them to the ground. One such, he heard it make not a "thunk" as it touched down, but a "splash" as it hit water. Looked down to see the sea had come in, playing around his tree. Looked out at the ocean, which was "boiling." He screamed a warning to the village, dropped down himself and began running. The water overtook him. But he managed to half swim, half scramble to safety -- he reached the dune/embankment that runs along the coast here, a natural dike that helped save Naluvedapathy from worse damage.


If you go to Naluvedapathy, look for signs that announce that this is the site of a Guinness world record. Not swallowing worms or growing fingernails, but planting casuarina trees. Right on the coast is the "Guinness Garden", 80,000-plus casuarinas in a long belt that's about 50 metres wide. The record lies in how these trees were planted. In 2001, the local collector persuaded 300 villagers to plant all 80,000 in one 24 hour stretch. (Do the arithmetic: that's one tree planted every 5 minutes for each person).

That intensive effort did more than get Naluvedapathy into the record books. Last December, the casuarinas bent but did not break before the giant wave; they slowed the tsunami enough that this part of the coast was spared the horrific destruction wreaked elsewhere.

Sneak preview: this October 2nd, on a stretch of coast south of the Guinness Garden, there will be an attempt to break Naluvedapathy's existing Guinness record. Nearly 100,000 casuarina saplings are being lovingly raised for that effort.

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