Tsunami and Consequential Poverty

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A large number of people to the extent of 220,000 people were killed in the tsunami which hit South Asia in 2004. There were disastrous consequences of this natural calamity. Loss of millions of lives and displacement of millions more. All the reports and the media focussed on every possible impact of the disaster which included its impact on the environment, on tourism and even the impact of animals. The surprising factor in this scenario which impacted me personally was that the tsunami’s consequence reports focussed on humans in general, ‘the victim’ in refugee camps, ‘the victim’ faced lack of aid etc. The problem being that there was a subset in the victims which faced more problems during the calamity as well as during the aftermath. This subset of victims were women. Women suffered more during the tsunami. More women were killed than were men. The researcher looked at India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia for statistics and research and the statistics which were revealed were astonishing. The ratio of women who were killed to men was 3:1 on an average amongst all affected areas in these 3 nations and in a number of places this ratio was 4:1. In the North Aceh district of Indonesia out of 366 deaths, 284 were women. In Cuddalore in India there were 391 female deaths as compared to 146 men. And there were also some villages in India and Sri Lanka where all the deceased were women. As a starting point the researcher looked into the reason why women perished more than men. It was interesting to see that the cause was circumstantial but as a result of gender roles set by society. We have to see that the areas affected by the tsunami were coastal areas mainly consisting of traditional fisherman families and a number of other artisans and labourers who are not educated and live in traditional setting of society. The men are expected to be the sole bread earners of the family. So in terms of fishermen, they were out fishing while the women stayed back in the household doing their chores and looking after the children. Due to this as the fishermen were at sea they survived better as the waves passed under their small boats and they could swim and cling on to trees. On the other hand the women who were at home could not be so saved. The waves thrashed against their houses and rammed them into pieces. The sad part being that the traditional societies in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka did not believe that women need to be taught how to swim. However surprising it might be many of the women did not even know how to swim. The instinct of the women to try and save their children also became their undoing as they lost vital seconds in which they could have saved themselves. THE AFTERMATH:

The chaos and social breakdown that is symbiotic to natural disaster the factor which came up was an increased vulnerability of women to sexual abuse. Briefly, Domestic violence increases as local authorities do not intervene stating it as “personal matter” and statistics are very difficult to collect as women don’t report these cases. Now delving into the details of this oppression of women furthering their pain after a natural calamity, the oppression was built into the refugee camps for the victims. This is where the entire concept of ‘Sexualised Violence’ became an immediate consequence of the Tsunami. A large number of sexual harassment and violence cases were reported but not registered. Organizations like Asia Pacific Law Forum on Women, Law and Development etc. reported such occurrences as officially there were no reports registered. There were various reports stating that the women in these camps were raped not only by the...
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