The worst human tragedy of the millennium unfolded as the tsunami killer waves hit the Marina Coast of Chennai, the Eastern Coast of Tamil Nadu, and the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh on 26th December 2004. Nearly 2000 members of WWF pursuing mainly fishing and fishing-related activities were affected by the tsunami. The President and the volunteers rushed to the disaster struck areas immediately after the disaster. Relief materials like rice, clothes, utensils and cash were distributed. The transportation of relief materials was a major hurdle as the roads were badly damaged. WWF was the first organisation to reach many of the tsunami-affected population living in remote areas. After finishing the phase of relief work within 4 weeks, WWF took up the counselling and advocacy work, before doing the needs assessment for the rehabilitation/reconstruction of livelihoods. The responsibility of counselling the tsunami victims was taken by the WWF team in a one-day workshop, where 103 members affected by the tsunami attended. The fear of the sea was overcome and they were ready to take up fishing once more. A rehabilitation programme to provide assets and assistance including fishing infrastructure, house repairs, children education etc. was drawn up.

On 28th June 2005, His Excellency the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Shri Surjit Singh Barnala distributed rehabilitation measures to the tsunami-affected members, at a function organised by WWF. Over Rs.1,17,57,667 were received as financial assistance from various national/international foundations, such as Citibank Foundation, Rabo Bank Foundation, and other smaller groups, an amount of Rs. 25,00,000 had been distributed as immediate relief (within 10 days of the tsunami) to all the affected in the I phase and the rest was provided as rehabilitation assistance to them.

The number of fisherwomen members affected by the tsunami in WWF's branches is 1501 and the estimated cost of rehabilitation is Rs. 92,57,667. Out of the 1501 affected members, 726 members lost their fishing nets (cost of rehabilitation is Rs. 27,63,167), 46 members lost their catamarans (cost of rehabilitation is Rs. 4,48,500), 322 members lost their housing (cost of reconstruction and repairs is Rs. 32,20,000), 357 members lost their fishing trade (compensation of working capital due to loss of fish trade is Rs. 18,26,000). To help the government of Tamil Nadu, 50 Self-help Groups from Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu were given rehabilitation/relief measures worth Rs. 10,00,000. The assistance for housing reconstruction and repairs to the 322 affected members is yet to be distributed.


Background -Public Hearings:
As Adiramapattinam struggles to restore normalcy affected by Cyclone Gaja, I visited the cyclone affected areas. I was speechless for some time and in tears, meeting over900 poor women entrepreneur members (from over 50 villages) in such a critical situation at a meeting held in the Adiramapattinam branch; and later in Mangankadu village on December 29, 2018. Addressing gathering and with deep sympathy at the loss of livelihood and damages caused by the cyclone Gaja,I expressed my desire to visit all their villages as soon as I heard about the details of disaster on the 1800 members lives. But unfortunately there were no possible clear roads or transport to approach the people due to the cyclone warning. Appreciating the women members that they are trying to overcome the difficulties with their courage, determination and self-confidence, even though natural calamities have destroyed their daily livelihood, homes, health it could never detract their strong will power to overcome difficulties. I requested the members to share their experience/ difficulties in detail at the public hearing and meeting.

The members recounted that they have lost everything except their lives and thanked me for reaching out to them in their hour of crisis. The immediate situation is described in the narrative report both the context, incidents, initial team visits. There are many cases of problems/grievances of the women members, and some narrations of the members at the public hearing are mentioned below where the women members talk about the shock, trauma, immediate impact, the loss of life, homes and livelihood.

Cyclone Gaja touched the shore of Southern Tamil Nadu during the early hours of 16th November 2018, in Tanjore Dirstrict, especially in Pattukottai & Adiramapattinam causing the worst damages so far. Coming in at 120 kmph as opposed to the 90 - 100 kmph that was anticipated, it was accompanied by gusty winds and heavy rain. Gaja means Elephant in Sanskrit language. Like an angry elephant, the devastating Gaja cyclone caused destructionto Adiramapattinam in Tamil Nadu where we have our branch.

Adirampattinam is a important coastal town in Pattukkottai Block in Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu State. It comes under Adirampattinam Panchayath divided into 21 wards. The population are engaged in marginal works. The highest sustained speeds were recorded in Adirampattinam at 165 kmph. About 1 lakh electric poles, 1000 transformers, 201 electricity substations and 5000 boats were destroyed by the cyclone. 1000s of cattle, birds died due to the cyclone. 63 people died mostly in the districts of Thiruvarur, Thanjavur and Pudukottai. About 18000 hectares of Coconut trees were damaged mostly uprooted. Totally 56,000 hectares of crops and trees were destroyed due to the cyclone. Many housing unit's especially huts were destroyed indicating that the poorest of the poor women have been reduced to nothing in terms of resources. The plight of the affected people became deplorable. The people were not prepared as they never thought a cyclone would affect their district. This is their first experience of such heavy wind. The situation has taken them back to several decades and in many fields will take 10 years to normalize.

ICNW team visits
Immediately field visits were undertaken by the team of the Indian Cooperative Network for Women they could see mostly damaged tiled houses, huts, severe loss to Banana and Coconut trees (enclosed). It can be estimated that more than 90% of Coconut trees were uprooted and people lost their source of income. Overnight the rich and the poor depending on agriculture have become poor as most of their crops were affected. It would take atleast 5 years for the farmers to recover from this damage. Every tree on this land has a history of 32 to 50 years and within one night the history was re-written. People were seen replacing roof's to be protected with plastic sheet and gunny bags. The damage left behind by cyclone Gaja, the fallen trees and damage houses, in the state's delta and portal district will remain a sour reminder of the cyclone in the months to come. Loss of livelihood and property has made many women psychologically depressed and traumatised.

Damages to Homes and Houses
More than a lakh houses, including thatched huts, titled houses, concrete etc., have either collapsed or partially damaged in this area. Household items were completely damaged and many households lost their furniture, clothes and note books. Roof of many houses has gone in almost all places and many places, walls have also fallen.

Damages to Infrastructure
Almost all homes, have lost electricity connections because a majority of the electricity poles have sustained damaged. The transportation facilities were completely cut off due to fallen trees on the roads in the first 2 weeks. Nearly all the mobile networks lost their connection and the communication came to halt. Roads even after one month are in poor condition.

Impact on livestock
Most of the households owned one or two cows, goats, hen etc., for their own/commercial purpose. Landless households especially the poor women and other agricultural labourers households owned goats/hens as a source of livelihood. Many cows, goats and hens have perished now or suffering. Claiming for livestock is very difficult as one case-study indicates.

Impact on fishery
Many of the boats are thrown out and many of the engines/fishing nets are badly damaged. Fisher women lost processed fish, storage bins and livelihoods.

Impact on trees
Several of trees present on the road sides in the coastal areas suffered heavy damages due to cyclonic wind and were uprooted. Many trees were broken. Even after a month clearing that is expensive is ongoing. Not only did all the Coconut trees face onslaught but now severe losses have additional burden of high cost of clearing trees. Most houses had source of income from coconuts, leaf for thatches, coconut oil/other value addition.

Women and children: Gender
The burden on women has increased due to the various impacts of the cyclone disaster on their earnings and struggle to keep families alive. They have suffered from accessing relief supplies, drinking water and lack of sanitation facilities for several days. Most of them suffer from fever and other ailments and are without livelihood sources.

After listening to the people's difficulties, concerned Dr. Nandini Azad said that they have given the possible financial assistance and the ICNW staff provided one day wages willingly to help the members in need. She also said she would all possible means to try to reach out about the grievances of the women members to the Central Government for further welfare support. Also she would seek support from other sources to help restore the livelihood and strengthen the life of rural women and their family. To restore the smiles on the women's faces and their family members by supporting them in their livelihood. She also mentioned that the Adiramapattinam branch is the best branch and had shared the experience all over the world. Even in such a dreadful situation the members of Adiramapattinam are very honest and are repaying the loan on time The courage and strength of these poor women were united in solidarity by the Indian Cooperative Network for Women. The members also appreciated that the President/organization has extended the time for loan instalments without even requesting members for the same. The meeting ended with the signature song on poor women's solidarity through ICNW.

The Indian Cooperative Network for Women immediately even in the worst situation reached out to the women members in crises and offered psychological emotional support. Also it offered small financial assistance to around 1500 women members in over 100 villages in immediate need. This amount though small was very useful for them and in the public hearing they had no words to thanks the cooperative that stood with them in the time of disaster