FROM the vantage point on a knoll at Bamboo Flat, a 10-minute ferry ride from Port Blair 46 kilometres away, the view is one of destruction and rehabilitation in contradistinction. In the waters at a distance the destruction caused by the December 2004 tsunami still resonates in the withered trunks of coconut and arecanut trees, while close below are neat little houses getting their finishing touches before families move in. The houses, supported by epoxy-coated steel structures, have walls made of processed bamboo plats. Each house has a verandah, a drawing room, two bedrooms, a small kitchen and a bathroom and a toilet. Rain water-harvesting facilities, too, have been provided.
The tsunami ravaged 38 islands in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago; a few islands went under and some tilted. More than 3,500 persons were reported dead or missing, and more than 50,000 people were affected. About 10,000 houses were destroyed and incursion of sea water ruined 10,000 hectares of agricultural land. The livelihoods of about 2,300 fishermen were affected.
The Intermediate Shelter Complex at Bamboo Flat has 180 units, a euphemism for a single-room tenement, set in parallel rows. Several residents of the Nicobar, Katchal, Camorta and Teressa islands in the Nicobar archipelago have now been temporarily accommodated in the shelter complex.
The rehabilitation process is now on in full swing. Permanent houses are coming up fast on various islands as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) work together with the Andaman and Nicobar islands Public Works Department (APWD) and the Central PWD to build them.
Frontline visited one such permanent complex, comprising 373 houses of 550 square feet each, coming up at Bamboo Flat. The rooms were equipped with fans, tubelights and quality switches and the walls were made of processed bamboo plats. The housing complex would also have a community hall, a shopping complex and a playground.
Of the 373 houses, the Hindustan Covenant Church is building 152, the APWD 112, CARE India 59 and the Mata Amritanandamayi Math 50. It is not a simple housing project, said Relief Commissioner Dharam Pal. It is a comprehensive project with electricity, sanitation, schools, all built into the project. The NGOs are constructing the houses. The government is providing the roads, water, electricity and sanitation facilities. When we finish building the houses, they should have water, electricity and sewage connections. Our focus is on the last three. That is why there is some delay, he said.
Dharam Pal spoke of the challenges the islands administration faced in its relief and rehabilitation efforts in an archipelago stretching a distance of 800 km and situated 1,200 km from the mainland. He said: All the construction materials have to come from the mainland. Transportation is difficult. The tsunami destroyed many jetties. The working season is limited to four or five months in a year. Stevedoring is risky in rough weather. Labour is not available. Jetties have only a limited capacity to receive cargo. The affected sites are scattered over large distances without proper road connectivity. On islands such as Nancowrie and Camorta, construction material could be carried only on head loads.
Informed sources said that in the beginning the NGOs, in their enthusiasm, overcommitted themselves on the number of houses they would build. The Government of India has approved a special package of Rs.3,500 crore for reconstruction work on the islands. The package includes building 9,797 houses by December 2008; restoring the livelihood of fishermen at a cost of Rs.180 crore; reconstructing shipping infrastructure such as jetties, cargo-handling facilities, and breakwaters at a cost of Rs.1,043 crore; and restoring the tourism infrastructure with a special emphasis on eco-tourism.T.S. Subramanian