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2004 Tsunami Crisis: Impact on India

The tsunami affected India’s southeast coast, predominantly in the state of Tamil Nadu, as well as the Indian territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  In terms of the death toll, India had the third highest total following Indonesia and Sri Lanka.  On the Indian mainland, more than 8,800 people are confirmed dead with thousands more still missing.  Of this total, almost 8,000 of the deaths were from Tamil Nadu and 600 were from Pondicherry.  At least 1,316 of the Andaman and Nicobar islands' 400,000 people are confirmed dead and 5,542 are missing - 4,500 from Katchall island alone.  At least 140,000 Indians, mostly from fishing families, are being sheltered in relief centers.

Of all the countries affected by the tsunami, India was the most developed nation with the strongest economy.  This has allowed the nation to be in a strong position to weather such losses, and has led to the government insistence that they bear the brunt of the reconstruction itself, rather than relying on foreign aid.  This also holds true for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands where India has military presence on one island, and other islands being inhabited by primitive tribes.   India has refused assistance from international aid agencies, because of the presence of a military base on one island, and stone-age tribes on some others.

Here are some of the tsunami-related stories coming out of India:

- The cost of the tsunami to India has reached a total of $1.6 Billion according to calculations from Citigroup, a figure higher than many officials expected.  Officials also estimate damages in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands will exceed $600 Million.  The Indian government believe they can handle the costs internally without relying too heavily on foreign aid. 

- On the Indian mainland, amateur relief workers, dubbed "disaster tourists" have been warned that they may be doing more harm than good.  Many established Indian aid organizations see these disaster tourists arriving in large numbers with loads upon loads of relief material but with no idea as to what they need to do.  The organizations believe that their help is needed only if their efforts are organized effectively.  There have been numerous reports of people preying on aid supplies that are intended for the real victims.       

- Many fishing communities have been devastated by the tsunami, most notably the fishing town of Nagappattinam whose fleet of 10-metre trawlers and long, open boats were once the pride of the Tamil Nadu coast.  Officials estimate that only three of 15,000 fishing vessels along this stretch of coastline escaped damage.  Up to $125 Million may be needed to fix or replace damaged fishing vessels, buy new nets and lines and generally get the economic lifeblood of this coast flowing again. 

- Very little is known about the effects of the tsunami on India’s primitive indigenous tribes like the Jarwas, the Onges, the Sentenelese and the Shompens, although officials estimate that they are alright.  The Onge are one of the oldest tribes in the Andaman Islands and anthropologists say they could be dated back there 30,00 to 50,000 years.

The Onge resemble African bush men in appearance.  They're generally short, some four to four-and-a-half feet in height and dark skin colour and curly hair. Today the Onge tribe are on the verge of extinction with an estimated 98 of them are left.

- Although the tsunami will inevitably slow down the tourism industry, particularly in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, officials believe that they will get back on track, and may even increase in business due to the exposure the islands have received.  The islands, which are known for its spectacular virgin beaches, amazing marine life for scuba diving, and dense forests, were not to heavily affected by the tsunami in tourist and resort areas.  Tourism in the Andaman and Nicobar islands has picked up in the last 20 years. There were only 10,000 tourists visiting the islands in 1980.  In 2003, the number had increased almost tenfold, to 93,000.  In 2004, it had been expected to cross the 100,000 mark before the tsunami hit. 

- In the wake of the tragic tsunami, the Indian government have committed to developing a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean.  The warning system, which will cost $27 Million, will be up and ready in two to three years says a government minister.  The warning system would involve installing Deep Ocean Assessment Reporting Technology at a depth of six kilometers in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal.