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Waiting To Submerge In Sea? Climate’s first orphans: The cases of three villages in Coastal Odisha

Updated: September 17, 2011 3:34 pm

Rising sea levels and climate change effects have their own impact on coastal Odisha villages. For thousands of villagers of Satabhaya, Ramayapatana and Podampeta in coastal Odisha life is a twice told story. They have survived with many disasters and nature’s fury. Satabhaya in Kendrapara and Ramayapatna and Podampeta villages of Ganjam district are the living testimonials or classic cases of ongoing climate change debate. Are they going to be submerged in the Bay of Bengal? It is mentioned that Puri, Gopalpur, Satabhaya and Kantiagada sea beaches are mostly vulnerable and prone to sea erosion. People there are still showing brave hearts to be there in sea’s lap. Unperturbed and unhindered with the crisis in life they have set and suit themselves to fight the nature for their life and livelihood. Living on the verge of nature’s fury, the surging sea may come and grasp them any time.

Many attributed the present crisis of sea erosion to climate change. The sea shore which was off a kilometer away twenty years back has now come closer to habitation. The surging tidal waves are now touching the fishing hamlets and homes almost daily in this monsoon. The cause may be plenty but the situations remain the same. The question is—are we going to relocate the villages and the villagers?

Government policies not inclusive

Yes! Relocation of villages have been attempted several times but in vain. The government has neither any definite plan to relocate and resettle the villagers nor is there any plan to check sea-erosion, study the cause or way out. The World Bank funded 227crore Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Plan which talks about Erosion, Conservation, Eco-Tourism, Heritage Preservation, Pollution Control and Livelihood Security but it has short of protection policy for endangered coastal villages, except a plant to set up a Geo-Synthetic Wall (700 meters long geo tube bundh) spending 19 crore in Penth village near Rajnagar to check erosion.

Odisha government’s Draft Climate Change Action Plan with a huge budget of Rs 17,000 crore seeks to help industries more by reducing their expenditure on adapting to climate change, while providing hardly any budget for the victims of climate change at Saatabhaya. In the year 2005, Centre had included many sea-side villages under another World Bank assisted National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Programme (NCRMP).The idea was to build shelter belts to save the seaside villages and towns from the onslaught of cyclones, storms, tidal waves even tsunami etc. But yet there is no information on how far these projects worked to the extent of protecting coastal villages.

Odisha has never experienced any such year where it does not have any natural disaster. So far as the issue is concerned, one hundred disasters have been recorded in last 100 years. The state has been declared disaster affected for 95 times within the 105 years. Frequent disaster in Odisha already killed 22,228 people from 1963 to 1999 many people and till date 34, 21,000 people became homeless in Odisha left many children alone as orphan, disabled, and missing. This will increase the vulnerability of children.

Odisha Government has already installed radar in Paradeep with an investment of Rs 12 crore for Tsunami and cyclone warning assessment with the aim of protecing life and livelihood of human being as well as domestic animals. According to govt sources several other projects are also in the pipeline and to be installed in collaboration with Government of India. Notably among the developments as has been claimed by the government is that the state is now equipped with all technologies to enable us to evacuate at least two lakhs of people within a span of 2/3 hours during any disaster waning.

At a time when industrialists are queuing up to penetrate Odisha, nobody is concerned about the extreme climatic condition of the state. Odisha has been experiencing the most extreme climatic condition for a decade ranging from heat wave to cyclone and from drought to flood.

Upcoming development projects in terms of Ports, Steel Plants, SEZs, Jetties, Hotels and large Tourism projects etc. have further worsened the woes of coastal habitations and population. Development projects are good only when they engage with communities and become beneficial for local population. Sometimes unsustainable ways of planning and setting up projects without community consents have paved the way for more conflicts and alienations. Such has been the situation in Coastal areas. Thousands of coastal artisans, salt workers, fishermen both marine and Chilika have left the area for Surat, Mumbai, Kerala and Bengaluru etc in search of alternative job.

The situation further aggravated following illegal land encroachment by prawn mafias and intervention of non-fishermen in fishing activities, the conflict between conservation and livelihood, surging sea and above all land acquisition for $12 billion POSCO Steel plant, Dhammara Port, Gopalpur Port, Dhamara Railway line, Gopalpur Tata Steel Project etc. The Government of Odisha planned to set up 12 more ports in coastal area besides the existing three ports. These port projects are part of proposed 187 ports in the Country. Environmentalists have expressed serious reservations about these port proposals.

Starting from the northern coasts of Odisha to the southern coasts, many villages have fallen victim to the wrath of the ocean. Today a grim scenario has emerged the coastal habitations are being continually eroded by the ravages of the sea.

Satabhaya

The villages most affected by the climate change are the coastal villages in the district of Kendrapara. The cluster of seven villages called Satabhaya is the live example. Though within a decade five villages have been washed away in Satabhaya area, government has done little to reduce the danger and ameliorate the plight of the displaced communities. 1930 land records show an area of 320 sq km for the Satabhaya cluster near the port town of Paradip in Odisha. The 2000 land records indicate that this area has been reduced to 155 sq km with five of the seven villages being swallowed by the sea. The first to vanish into the sea in the early 1980s were Govindpur, Mahnipur and Kuanriora villages. Two more villages—Kharikula and Sarpada were submerged in the mid-1990s.

On June 8, this year district Collector and local MLA laid the foundation stone for Bijunagar, near Bgapatia Vilage in Kendrapara, the resettlement colony to relocate 571 families of Satabhaya, who are living in constant fear and uncertainty. Seven years back in 2004 Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also laid the foundation stone and in the year 1991 his father late Biju Patnaik, the then CM also laid the foundation stone.

“The government has been making plans for the people of Satabhaya since 1977 but none of them has seen the light of day. Skeptical about the government’s rehabilitation measures, hundreds of families in the two remaining villages of Satabhaya have now mored out to relatively safer places of their choice,” says, Bikask Kumar Pati of RCDC.

Pati further added: “72 families have settled down at Magarkanda and have named their new hamlet Atasala. 60 families from Satbhaya and 20 from the neighbouring Kanpur have taken refuge under a mound near the Ekkakula mouth which now goes by the name Balisahi.The newly established village of Barahipur near the wheeler Island houses 45 erstwhile families of Satbhaya and Kanpur.”

Prafulla Nayak of Satabhya village has been very critical on state government’s approach to the rehabilitation of surviving people saying: “Only one out of seven cluster villages has sustained the onslaught of the sea because of the natural sand dunes.”

Gayadhar Dhal, a farmer leader too alleged: “The lack of effective strategies by the state government has multiplied their woes. Though, the government has provided 70 acrers of land at Gupti during the tenure of Biju Patnaik-to rehabilitate displaced families nothing has started yet.”

Nrusingha Sahu of the area argues, “That wide spread depletion of mangroves has resulted in severe coastal erosion.”

Podampeta

Eleven villages of Pallibandha gram panchayat in Ganjam district have started experiencing the influence of climate change in various ways. Nearly 200 households of Podampeta and Gokharkuda village have disappeared from the original location. 400 meter beach have receded to 25 meter within a decade. Due to reverse wind blowing, Salt production has come down to 50 per cent seriously affecting the standard of living of the local population. Quantum and variety of fish resources are demeaned to an all time low. Changes in salinity and temperature of sea have such a tremendous impact on available fish varieties that they have started migrating to the deeper sea from the west side to the eastern coast, which had made life of fishing community miserable.

Podampeta which was severely hit by 1999 Super Cyclone is still struggling to escape from the rising sea level. At least 300 fishermen families are living with uncertain future. Though district administration has decided to shift them to the nearby Prayagi-Palur belt, finding no alternative livelihood most of them are relenting to leave the habitation.

According to Tateya, a resident of Podampeta village, “Earlier the fish catches which were within 1-2 kms near the sea is now found beyond 15 kms off the coast, fish varieties like Vekrty, Bengala, Ilishi, Ghee Chandi, Kani and Kokili are in extinct or not available in plenty near shoreline.” He further added, “Fishermen who were earning Rs. 100-500 per day are now opting for wage labour outside the village.”

Rameyapatna

During the first week of July people of the village were surprised to find themselves in water logged. Though they have been in living with fear and uncertainty since 1999, they had never imagined to witness such a huge flow of water inside the village.

Since the year 2003 Ramayapatna village situated near Bahuda sea mouth under Kanishi Tahasil of Ganjam district is witnessing tidal waves entering the village regularly. Though, the village is located 500 meters away from the shoreline because of the incessant rain and surging sea, they often have to take shelter in cyclone shed. District administration has started the resettlement process for these nearly one hundred residents who have opted for relocation. Some of the villagers have submitted their family details after their consultations with local tahasildar Mahendra Kumar Panda. Government is planning to relocate them near Chandanbadi and has assured them with government land, Indira Awas etc.

“Yes, government has asked us to submit the list of family members by september 10, but the situation is something different, villagers are not included in government welfare or development schemes because of CRZ provisions and identity, then how will we except full rehabilitation?” asked a villager.

By Sudarshan Chhotoray From Bhubaneswar

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