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Improved shelters provide respite to tsunami victims

R.K. Radhakrishnan

Some clusters were provided cement floors.

CHENNAI: : A couple of sharp, unseasonal rainspells and the summer temperature hovering around the mid-30s led to a serious rethink on temporary shelters, constructed for tsunami victims by the district administration and non-governmental organisations.

Though temporary, the shelters will be home to victims for six months to a year, time needed to build permanent resettlement homes. All shelters are at least 500 metres away from the sea and have been built with the minimum prescribed facilities. The NGOs built a majority of the shelters on government specifications. But some beneficiaries at Kovalam and elsewhere say structures trap heat and are too small to accommodate a family and too far away from the sea.

Nagapattinam district, the worst-hit region, has over 60,000 people staying in 13,566 shelters, spread across 54 locations along the coast. The sheer scale of the disaster called for mammoth efforts to ensure that the affected were provided with basic amenities. The district administration spends Rs. 20 lakhs a month for the affected, 10 times more than the amount spent in any other district. "During rain, we covered the roof with tarpaulins and plastic sheets. After the rain, we concentrate on sanitation," says the Collector, J. Radhakrishnan.

The last of the shelters was ready in February and was almost immediately greeted by sharp showers. This meant an immediate rethink on the shelters: they had to be strong enough to withstand heavy rain, gusty winds and water logging.

Concrete flooring

All affected districts came up with their own shelter management plans, drawing on local resources and catering for the needs of users. Some international organisations, including the United Nations Children's Fund, have contributed to the efforts. Some shelter clusters have been provided with cement floors and drainage has been improved in all shelters. Common amenities such as childcare centres and community halls have been added to most large settlements. A few NGOs have volunteered to donate table fans to the affected.

The shelters are definitely better than before, says Raju Rajagopalan of Bhoomika Trust, an NGO.

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