Valiathura has been functioning as a relief camp for families whose coastal homes were destroyed, but many complain of poor conditions and a lack of basic facilities.

After losing homes to coastal erosion families face new trouble at Kerala relief camps
news Coastal erosion Saturday, July 27, 2019 - 14:13

56-year-old Kumar had an intense expression on his face as he took a deep breath before calmly saying, “Listen, I’m not even asking for basic necessities like food or water. All I need is a house. I haven’t lived in a house for the last three years.” Breaking the intensity of the moment and much to the displeasure of Kumar, 55-year-old Rita spoke out saying, “But I want food. I’m hungry and we have not been getting proper food.” 

This was a scene from one of the godowns of the Directorate of Ports in the coastal area of Valiathura in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, which has been functioning as relief camps to several families whose homes were destroyed due to severe coastal erosion over the years. Kumar, a fisherman, is one among the hundreds who lost their homes years ago but has not yet been fortunate enough to see his name in the list of 192 fishing families who were given new homes by the Government of Kerala in November last year. 

The number of families who have lost their homes due to the fury of the seas is steadily outgrowing the space available in the relief camps of the coastal village of Valiathura. Scattered across the coastal region, these relief camps function either in classrooms of government schools or in godowns of government buildings, with a lack of basic facilities for the number of people it houses.

The Government Upper Primary school houses around 120 fishing families. Out of the three buildings of the school, two have been converted into relief camps with each of them housing more than 50 families. 

Poor facilities

Crammed into a small hall in the school, there were about 20 to 30 women, along with their cots, mattresses and utensils scattered here and there. “We moved into this school in the first week of June and have been living here ever since with no certainty about whether or not we will get another house or not,” says Asha, who is considered to be the leader of UP school relief camp. 

The conditions of these relief camps are pitiable to say the least. With over 100 families consisting of more than 400 people, including children, there aren’t enough toilets or food for all in these camps. “We hardly have four bathrooms for all the families and it’s not at all hygienic. And only a few people’s names are listed in the village office’s ration list so only they get the food kits. The others have to either buy from outside or share with the ones who get ration,” Asha tells TNM. 

The issues of the people in these camps don’t end with poor living conditions. They also have to struggle with outbreak of various kinds of infections and diseases in the camp. “Recently two of the children in this camp suffered from chickenpox and were admitted in the hospital. One of them got discharged today. Now we’ll have to wait and see how many else will get,” added Asha. 

Meanwhile, this has been the life of people like Kumar for the past three years. Kumar, along with three other families live in the relief camps situated at the godown of the Port office near the Valiathura beach. Kumar recalls that from 2016, after he lost his home to a rough sea attack, he along with his eight family members were shifted to a relief camp in a government school where they stayed for two years following which they were shifted to the new camp at the port godown last year. 

Out of the two godowns of the port directorate which have been converted into relief camps, one godown consists of 17 families which have been living there for more than a year and the other godown houses six families who moved in just a week ago. Despite the interiors of the godown relief camps being considerably better than the camp at the UP school, the lack of toilet facilities and proper food is still an issue for the families. 

39-year-old Raji Alexander, who lives in the camp with her husband and two children says that the women of the camp find it difficult to use the washrooms which are located a little away from the godown. “There are only two washrooms for 17 families here,” she says.

Efforts by Church, local bodies and government

Ask any fishing family in Valiathura and they are likely to say that they are grateful to the St Anthony’s church of the coastal village, whose vicar and the church committee have put in some effort into ensuring the smooth functioning of the relief camps in terms of providing food, rehabilitation and so on. 

Sushil Raj, the secretary of the church was present at the relief camp at the port godown and speaking to TNM, he said that they are expecting more families to join the camps in the coming days with the seas getting rougher. “We have got in touch with the village office and arrangements have been made to provide families with regular food and ration. We will also be setting up cubicles inside the godown for each  family in order to give them their privacy,” said Sushil. 

The State Tourism and Devaswom Minister, Kadakampally Surendran had visited the relief camps on Wednesday to take stock of the situation. Following the visit, the minister had called for a high level meeting to discuss the rehabilitation plan for the fishing families of Valiathura and Shanghumugham.

“The Thiruvananthapuram District Collector has been instructed to ensure that food materials and vegetables under the supervision of a tahsildar, is being supplied to all the relief camps without fail. Also, the Revenue Department has been instructed to assign an official to ensure the smooth functioning of all relief camps,” the minister said in a statement. He went on to add that the families which have been rehabilitated in various government schools will be shifted to the relief camps in the godowns of various government organisations, which have better facilities.

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