Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
fresh and saltwater combined in this irrigation canal
Just 0.5- 1.0 kmfrom the sea, rice crops in floweringstage were completely scorched due tosea water
water from ahandpump 10 feet deep turned out tobe unfit for drinking after the tsunami
Country Water ActionsIndia: Picking Up The Pieces —Tamil Nadu Farming After The Tsunami
By Lalitha Sridhar
Freelance development journalist and member of theADB Water Media Network
A BLEAK PONGAL
For many farmers livingon the Tamil Nadu coast,Pongal will be bleak thisJanuary. Pongal is theharvest festival and themost important annualcelebration of agrariancommunities in SouthernIndia.At 8.40 am on December26th, on the verge of theharvest season and afterexcellent monsoon rains which had brought an end to threeyears of crippling drought, the tsunamis struck along thesoutheastern coast of India.Seawater came up to two kilometers inland, depending onthe topography of the terrain. Within minutes, tens of thousands were dead. All productive land close to the shore- shrimp farms, coconut and mango groves, floriculture of malli and mullai (varieties of famously fragrant jasmine),and paddy and groundnut fields - were a meter deep in asand and a debris-mixed sludge of seawater.
TSUNAMI'S SALT THREAT
Over the last few years,farmers had beenreporting increasingsalinity as agriculturehas shifted from river-fed irrigation to fieldswatered with deepcommercial submersiblebore wells. But neversalinity on this scale."This was once one of the richest agrariandeltas in the country.Not anymore", said Dr. R.Mariappan, retired agriculturalscientist and traditional farmer of the ErukkattancheryVillage near Tarangambadi (Tranquebar), who has lost 25acres of fertile paddy fields.He continued, "Our family has been farming for the lasteleven generations and we have never seen anything likethis. My crops bleached into hay in a matter of days. Thewater in the network of embankments and feeder canalsthat irrigates my fields is now saline. The bore wells havegone brackish. The soil is covered by a thick sludge. In amatter of one hour, our only harvest of the year was wipedout. I don't know how we are going to make our land fertileagain." Mariappan's story is told over and over again throughoutIndia's southeastern coastal communities. The seawateraffected the entire agrarian coastal stretch fromVedaranyam Kodiyakarai to Kollidam, with between 250 and300 villages losing all their fertile lands. While, officialestimates of losses in the region amount to Rs 2,730.7 crore(approximately $US6.2) in Tamil Nadu, the full extent of theagricultural sector's loss -- in both human and financialterms -- could take much longer to calculate.P.Gandhi, a worker in the Land for Tillers initiative inNagapattinam, the worst affected district, said, "We havebeen distributing rice bags among landless labourers whonow face unemployment in a harvest season that is usuallythe most prosperous one. Farmers need rehabilitation, too.If something isn't done to assess and mitigate the damagesoon, another tragedy looms."
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Assessment andmitigation of the affectedareas has begun.Desalination plants havebeen transported fromHyderabad andAhmedabad to ensurethat drinking watersupplies are maintainedwithin rural communities.Post-tsunami soil profiletests have already beenundertaken in parts of Cuddalore andNagappatinam.The report into the soilshows that seawater has seeped to a depth of 90 cm intothe soil, completely affecting the root zone (15-30 cm belowthe ground). The tests also show that in the coastal villagesof Subbauppalavadi, Madalpattu, Gunduppalavadi andNananedu, the soil salinity had a high ph value rangingbetween 6.8 to 9.10.Says the Nagapattinam District Collector M.VeeraShanmugha Moni, "We estimate that a tonne of gypsum (amineral used extensively as a soil conditioner in agriculture)will have to be applied per hectare of land. Restoring fertilityto the soil is going to be a slow process that will take threeto four years. The administration is alert and sensitive tothe distress of farmers."