Tsunami survivors beg for houses

2005-12-25 10:18
Port Blair, India - Housing being provided by India in the tsunami-battered Andamans is "totally unsuitable", a UN expert said, while thousands of survivors crammed into tin shacks begged for proper housing a year after the disaster.

Miloon Kothari, the United Nation's special rapporteur on adequate housing, criticised living conditions in the archipelago, home to the Onges, Sentanalese, Shompens, Jarawas and the Great Andamanese indigenous tribes.

"Unlike other places, the situation in the Andamans is different, largely because it is federally-ruled and a protected area," Kothari said on Saturday.

"The Andaman administration is top-heavy and so all decision are taken in New Delhi or in Port Blair (capital of the Andamans).

"And so when it came to housing, instead of listening to tribals, instead of looking at indigenous designs, instead of looking at the space tribals are used to, India imposed specific building designs and building materials which were supplied in large numbers but by contractors from outside and these are totally unsuitable," Kothari told AFP.

Heat forced survivors to abandon shacks

Torrid heat forced survivors to abandon temporary shacks in some of the 36 inhabited isles of the Andaman island chain but punishing rains drove them back into the tin shelters erected by the Indian government.

"We are literally caught between a cruel devil and the deep sea," said Aiysha Majid, council chief of 15 villages that make up the isles of Nancowry and Kamorta where New Delhi has set up 735 shelters for tribal inhabitants.

"We are now desperate. We don't know what to do... we are doomed," Majid told AFP by telephone from Kamorta, an Indian naval base.

Almost 2 000 people were killed and 5 500 are still missing after waves as high as 36m crashed into the palm-fringed Andaman and Nicobar island group which stretches from Myanmar to Indonesia on December 26.

The tsunami razed 50 000 houses

The tsunami razed 50 000 houses, hundreds of schools, hospitals, police and fire station and other government buildings, wrecked 70 percent of the archipelago's jetties and turned harbours into a graveyard of sunken boats and ships.

"We are forced to live in these shacks which turn into ovens even in December which has forced many to build wooden varandahs to cool off," Majid said from Kamorta, where malaria is rife.

"These sheds cannot withstand even the mild aftershocks we now face, leave alone the power of the earthquake that caused the tsunami," said village council chief Wilson Amos of Nicobar, where India has erected 3 866 shelters as part of a three-year programme to "change the face of Andamans".

"Tribals live in traditional stilted houses made of bamboo but there was no consultation when India arbitrarily set up these," he said by telephone from Nicobar, where the giant waves wiped out India's most strategic airbase in the Indian Ocean.


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