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Village-level tsunami disaster assessment: A volunteer’s perspective

Srikrishna Sulgodu Ramachandra, MBBS, MD, MPH


Introduction: The Tsunami hit Indian coastal line between 8.30 and 9.30 AM Indian Standard Time (IST) on the December 26, 2004. A lot of damage to life and property—both movable and immovable— occurred to approximately 3-4 km of land adjacent to the coastal line. It mainly took away lives, shelter, fishing boats, and fishing nets of the fishermen folk. Relief in terms of money, manpower, food, water, clothing, medicines, and all other resources poured in plenty. However, any amount of relief or compensation could not match the amount of damage that had occurred. A team of 11 volunteers (two Public Health Specialists, seven Medical Interns, and two Medico Social Workers) led by the author went through ActionAid International and Community Health Cell (CHC), Bangalore, for relief work in Nagapattinam District of Tamil Nadu, which is one of the worst affected districts in India.
Objectives: To conduct a rapid assessment of the amount of damage at village level to lives, social and economic losses, and damage to community resources in 15 villages of Sirkali taluk of Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu with an ultimate goal to provide long-term services in that community. To assess the relief needed and relief that was actually provided in these 15 villages through Government and various Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
Methods: A 1-day (December 27, 2004) training and orientation on rapid disaster assessment, the tool to be used for the village level disaster assessment and handling relief operations in a Tsunami affected situation was given by the Country Coordinator for Disaster Management, ActionAid India, at CHC, Bangalore. Then, a 1-day (December 28, 2004) Planning and Review meeting was conducted at ActionAid Office, Chennai, to draw up an action plan for the areas to be covered and the steps to be followed during the assessment. The Survey Team was then divided into two groups of five members and six members each and set out to the villages selected for the actual data collection. The 15 villages that were part of the survey were selected by the ActionAid Chennai Office, based on the severity of destruction caused in those areas, and also since, they were the villages that ActionAid had longterm plans of adoption. A standard pretested semistructured questionnaire was provided by ActionAid and the data was collected by using participatory methods: (i) observations, (ii) key informant interviews (KIIs), and (iii) focus group discussions (FGDs). (KIIs were conducted with the Village Panchayat leaders, informal leaders, and the local residents. FGDs were conducted with the local residents. The information obtained through these participatory methods was validated against the records that were available with the local government.)
Results and Discussion: An analysis of the data from the rapid assessment done in these 15 villages of Sirkali taluk are presented and discussed in this article. A discussion about some of the best practices, major pitfalls in handling certain issues, challenges faced during data collection in these disaster situations, the preparedness for this kind of a situation in India, and developing systems for warning and reporting of this kind of a disaster are also discussed.
Conclusions: A disaster of this magnitude in a developing country like India clearly shows the need and commitment for Disaster Preparedness and Management. There is an urgent need to develop systems at the local, state, regional, and national levels and also ensure implementation. By doing so, although we cannot totally avoid natural disasters, we could probably be more prepared to face it and also minimize loss to lives and property to the least possible extent. Agencies involved in disaster management need to realize the ground realities of the effected area for planning a mitigation operation since each situation would be unique.


disaster response; tsunami; volunteer perspective; disaster assessment

Full Text:



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