Avarikadu village in Thalainayar Block in Nagapattinam District of Tamil Nadu State is located 18 KM from Vedaranyam, the place famous for salt extraction and prawn cultivation and 29 KM from Kodiakarai (Point Calimere) Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary. Aquaculture is the predominant occupation here. The devastating Cyclone Gaja of 16/11/2018, severely damaged different wetland categories, salt pans, mangroves, salt marshes and reserve forests. This area is one of the most vulnerable sites affected by Cyclone Gaja which caused great damage to the ecosystem due to flooding and siltation. Soil erosion, degradation and seawater inundation resulted in the increased coastal erosion and decreased supply of nutrients to the sea thus affecting the fish catch in this area. The salt-affected area also increased due to drying up of mud flats and expansion.
Apart from economically decimating the marginal and small-scale shrimp farmers, the cyclone had hit hard the daily wage labourers as their means of livelihood was badly affected. These poor labourers are also involved in goat rearing, poultry and fish vending as alternate income-generating activities. Few households are involved in the farming sector as smallholders/labourers. Damage assessment visit to Gaja affected areas and the interaction with affected communities enabled Caritas India to identify the need for rehabilitation measures in Avarikadu village.
The branches of the Grand River Cauvery which drain through the district of Nagapattinam form a large backwater system and they act breeding and feeding grounds for a wide variety of fin-fish and shell-fish. A sizable number of the 700 households in Avarikadu are engaged in aqua farming and their livelihood was destroyed by Gaja Cyclone as the fishing nets were damaged and water was polluted. The aqua farmers and the daily labourers were stranded with bleak future.
Caritas India with the support of United Way Bengaluru/Chennai played the catalyst role. Thanks to the generous contribution of Mphasis. Caritas India response was led by its manager, Dr. John Arokiaraj along with Mr.Vijay Senthilkumar of United Way Chennai. The accompaniment support of field officer Chellapandi and local school headmaster cum philanthropist Mr.Anand helped in capacitating the local communities on Participatory Disaster Risk Assessment (PDRA) tool. A livelihood assessment tool was used in this village to identify beneficiaries and initially goat rearing, poultry farming, salt retail business and refurbishment of shops were proposed. Later on, further interaction among community members made them come up with a swift recovery plan proposing support for fishnets to 44 families, goats to 28 families, petty shop support to 14 individuals and assistance for the refurbishment of 10 shops.
On the 8th of July, 2020, the 44 beneficiaries under fishnet livelihood assistance project assembled at the local school campus and were seated following the social distancing protocol. This event took place in the presence of Avarikadu Panchayat President- Mr.Lalitha Kalaiselvan and Mr. Aanand where fishnets were distributed. This occasion was also used to raise awareness on COVID 19. The arrangements were made by Chellapandi.
“Caritas India made us the owners of this project. We gave our full support and ensured the best quality. The interaction we had with Fr.Sushil, Caritas India Administrator who came all the way from New Delhi shows the commitment of Caritas India in our welfare” said Raja, one of the beneficiaries. He is aged 37 and was a daily wage earner in Vedaranyam saltpan. Commuting a distance of 38 KM and working for 8 hours, he used to earn Rs.500/- per day. The cyclone destruction to the saltpans affected his livelihood. He is also an aqua farmer since last 10 years. His 2.5 hectares shrimp farm was also badly affected. During this period of distress, the support rendered by Caritas India by providing the materials required to make fishnets to 44 families in his village was lifesaving and helped them restore their livelihood. Because of this support, the fishermen can earn a minimum of Rs. 500/- per day which helps them lead a decent life. The net provided can sustain for another 3 years after which their investment of Rs.1500/- will help them renew the already used fishing nets into efficient ones. This local specific fishnet weighs 2.5 kg and costs Rs.3600/- each.
Guhan, another beneficiary said that when common people are suffering without square meal a day, we can consume healthy fish food and sell them in the local areas for a reasonable price. “We are able to manage even during this COVID 19 crisis. We need to focus on improving the local economy and healthy life” he said.