According to Tree Bank’s survey, they have so far found 47,063 trees which fell during Vardah.

An NGO in Chennai is replacing the trees the city lost to Vardah with one sapling at a time
news Cyclone Vardah Saturday, December 24, 2016 - 17:02
Written by  Pheba Mathew

After cyclone Vardah rummaged through the city on December 12, Chennai looked like a ghost town. Trees were fallen on the roads, weaker structures were destroyed and communication lines were down. The buildings could be patched up, the billboards put up again and telephone lines laid back, but there was one aspect of the natural disaster which would take years, if not decades, to heal – the felling of huge number of trees.

The Chennai corporation has announced that at least 17,000 trees, weighing about 65,000 tons, have been uprooted due to the cyclone.

And an NGO based in Chennai wants to waste no time in starting the process of healing, and has decided to re-plant trees and providing saplings to people in Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts. Just a day after Cyclone Vardah, G Mullaivanam, environmentalist and founder of Tree Bank, with 90 other volunteers, began working on restoring the trees in Chennai.

“We started with surveying the number of trees in the three districts, and then for the last one week we have been working at Girls’ Senior Secondary School in Ashok Nagar, re-planting the trees and planting new saplings,” said Mullaivanam.

How do you re-plant the trees? “First, we make a big hole and then put the bottom part of the tree with its root into it, and apply natural medicines like turmeric, aloe vera and cow milk, to keep the insects away. It takes at least 100 days for the tree to start growing again. Moreover, we will not be planting the whole tree as there are chances of it falling again,” he explains.

The team has been divided into three groups. “There are 90 volunteers. One group does the surveying, second group plants saplings and the third group does re-planting.  We have to plant at least two new saplings for each tree that has fallen,” he says.

Most of the volunteers are IT professionals, college students and school students. “We are working every day since December 13. IT professionals usually join us on Saturdays and Sundays,” he adds.

According to Tree Bank’s survey, they have so far found 47,063 trees which fell during Vardah.

“Most of the trees that have fallen are Gulmohar and Iyal Vagai trees. We have selected Magizham, Pungan, Venmbu and Naval to plant across the city, as these trees can withstand strong winds. The survey will continue for the next five days, and the re-planting and sapling-planting will continue till January,” he says.

While they are focusing their work on schools, IT parks and universities, they have been getting other requests too. “Many residents have asked us help to remove big trees fallen in front of their houses, but we do not have the tools or the finances to do that. So, we are doing whatever is possible,” he says.

Moreover, many birds have also died without trees, he points out, “I have been putting fruits on trees to bring some birds to the trees and it is working.”

There have been reports that vandals are cutting down healthy trees in some localities, so that the trees can be sold without questions asked. But Mullaivanam denies it, and says that timber cannot be found in the trees which have fallen. He also says that residents are not cutting healthy trees. “The residents are just removing the fallen trees with the help of corporation,” he says.  

Rajasekar, an IT professional, who is a volunteer with the NGO, says, “I help Mullaivanam on the weekends. It feels great to be part of such an initiative. We have been working at the school where about 18 trees have fallen. We have a Facebook page in which Mullaivanam has been posting updates.”