India: 'Status of Life in Temporary Shelters'

Situation Report
Originally published


Executive Summary
The study aimed to understand life of tsunami-affected villagers in temporary shelters in Sirkali and Tharangambadi talukas of Nagapattinam District. It attempted to identify areas of immediate attention ahead of the oncoming monsoons.

The study covered 2048 temporary shelter units in 11 villages in the two talukas. It found that severe heat in summer and leaking through the roof in monsoon were the major problems faced by villagers in temporary shelters. None of the temporary shelters were livable.

As far the shelter sites are concerned, the impact of wrong site selections and negligence to undertake corrective measures were major short comings. All sites were flooded in rains and villagers were obviously affected.

Though there were enough supply of water, quality and maintenance and timing of the supply remained a concern. Most streets that connected shelters seemed clean and above benchmark sanitation levels. But the condition of toilets was far below standard levels.

Most streets that connected shelters seemed clean and above benchmark sanitation levels. But the condition of toilets was far below standard levels. Only four of 11 villages scored benchmark levels for solid waste management which highlighted the need for focused action in this area.

In terms of delivery of health services, only two villages attained benchmark scores. The delivery of services has to improve from mere referral to focused camps for skin diseases, preventive action, etc.

The study also tried to identify hazards related to temporary shelter sites. The shelters were vulnerable to the threat of fire as most of them were thatched. They also face the threat of being flooded as most shelters are built on low-lying areas. Other concerns included water- born diseases and hazards from insects and bugs.

The study recommends immediate action to address the vulnerability of the temporary shelter structures. It emphasises the need for participatory action to address issues related to drainage, water, sanitation and health. It also recommends participatory risk assessment to address the risks identified. The recommendations are broader and recommended to be developed and implemented locally with the participation of the communities.


For the first time in half a century, India experienced the devastating effects of a tsunami, caused by a series of earthquakes in the Bay of Bengal. The first and strongest earthquake occurred off the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia at 6.29 am Indian standard time (IST) on December 26, 2004 (magnitude and intensity was 9.0 USGS), followed by another quake at 81 kilometers (km) west of Pulo Kunji Great Nicobar, India (7.3 USGS) around three hours later. Altogether 115 aftershocks were reported, of which the magnitude of 103 tremors was between 5.0 and 6.0 USGS and 12 were over 6.0 on the Richter scale.

The earthquakes set off giant tsunami tidal waves of 3 to 10 meters in height, which hit the southern and eastern coastal areas of India and penetrated inland up to 3 kms, causing extensive damage in the Union Territory (UT) of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the UT of Pondicherry. Around 2,260 km of the coastal area besides the Andaman & Nicobar islands were affected.

According to Government reports 10,881 people in India lost their lives and 5,7924 persons were reported missing with 6,913 injured.

In Tamil Nadu, over 7,983 deaths were reported. Of the 13 coastal districts affected in Tamil Nadu, Nagapattinam, where 6,051 people died, was the worst affected. Over 824 died in Kanniyakumari and 612 were reported dead in Cuddalore district.

The disaster devastated communities with its high toll of human lives, injuries, family networks, homes and livelihoods. There are long-term consequences for families torn by death or disability of members, and for widows, single parents and their children, orphans, children separated from their families, the elderly and the disabled.

In all the tsunami-affected states and union territories, more women and children have died than men. The majority of those affected on the coast were fisherfolk who suffered the most damages in terms of housing and livelihoods with loss of dwelling units, household assets, and productive assets like boats and nets.

The Context

Our earlier assessment 'Lull after the storm' had notified the problems with the temporary shelter construction in the tsunami-affected regions. The main problems observed were:

- Lack of community participation in temporary shelter construction

- Wrong selection of sites vulnerable to both fire and floods

- Outdated construction style and inadequate materials

- Toilets and latrines were poorly located

Six months later, life remained the same for fishermen and other coastal communities who were hit by the tsunami.

The need for the study

In the peak of summer in April people were complaining of the excessive heat in the temporary shelters. Children suffered the most with chicken poxes and heat boils all over the body. Skin infections spread like fire. People spend most of the day out side under the shades of trees and buildings.

They prayed for rains, but when it rained their miseries abounded. It rained hardly for half a day and the shelter roofs were leaking, the sites were flooded, grains got wet and spoiled and every thing inside the shelters was dampened. Shelters offered little 'shelter' from both sun and rains.

lot of this was due to the low-quality materials used to build the shelters as well as poor craftsmanship. The sheets caused excess heat while rain water leaked through cracks in sheets and nail holes.

Besides, there were problems concerning water, sanitation and health. In many villages people complained of inadequate and poor quality water. Queues at water points never seemed to end. Toilets and bathrooms created another set of worries. Villagers said the panchayat was not maintaining the toilets properly. Some of them complained about lack of water and some of lack of privacy as none of the toilets worked properly.

The study was hence formulated to create a realistic picture of life in temporary shelters and look at immediate actions required to improve the 'normal life' of people in these temporary shelters.


1. To assess the livability of the temporary shelters

2. To assess the water and sanitation situation in the shelters

3. To assess the provision of health services

4. To come up with plans to improve the situation before the onset of monsoons


Two kinds of formats were prepared for the assessment:

1. Static data to be filled at the site

2. Ordinal scoring formats for converting qualitative information into quantitative data, using QPA methodology, through a meeting of the teams at the end of the day.

A guidance questionnaire was prepared for focus group discussions. The formats were field-tested in one village (Poompuhar) and necessary corrections were made. The actual assessment was done from July 13 to 17, 2005.

The Sample

The universe of the study was tsunami-affected Tharangambadi and Sirkali talukas of Nagapattinam district. The sample was narrowed down to 11 villages in the SSP working area. Secondary data was collected from district head quarters and the NCRC.

Two survey methods were adopted as below

1. During visits to the temporary shelter sites, the engineer conducted a sanitary survey using a standard form. The team held discussions and filled up data forms. Important sights were photographed

2. Focus group discussions were held with women living in shelter sites, using a guidance questionnaire. The team registered the names of the members present in the meeting. The response and answers from the group were verified through individual interviews in and around the shelters.

After completing the assessment in the village the team sat together and recorded the scores. Any data found to be missing or not clear was clarified in the village itself.

Limitations of the Study

1. The study, done in a limited area, may not represent the condition of shelters in all affected regions of Tamil Nadu.

2. The suggestions and recommendations made in the study may only be applicable to the villages in the two talukas only.

3. The comments on technical shortcomings of the shelters are based on observations and consultation with experienced field staff. Further technical scrutiny may be required to establish actual cause and solutions.

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