By Sanjib Kumar Roy
PORT BLAIR, India, May 15 (Reuters) - The early onset of the monsoon in India has brought misery for thousands of tsunami victims in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, struggling to keep rain water out of their temporary shelters.
The Indian Ocean archipelago was badly hit by the December 26, 2004 tsunami with more than 3,500 people killed and nearly 40,000 displaced.
The government built temporary shelters for victims made of corrugated metal sheets, and initially promised to move them into new, permanent homes in early 2007.
But work is moving at a snail's pace.
In the meantime, monsoon rains have begun entering the temporary homes through holes in the roofs and collecting because of poor drainage, residents said. "Rain water is leaving a sea of water inside the shelters. Heavy spells are adding to our misery," said Martin Luther, a spokesman for the Tribal Council on the Nicobar islands.
Monsoon rains arrived over the South Andaman Sea on May 10, more than a week ahead of schedule.
Some shelters were badly constructed by temporary labourers while some lack windows, residents said.
"It means bad news as most shelters are faulty and easily causing water to seep inside," John Steven, a teacher in Mus village in Car Nicobar island, said by telephone.
"We have no idea when we will get our homes."
Tribal leaders had complained bitterly about the design of the shelters since they were first unveiled, arguing that local materials should have been used instead of corrugated iron, which makes the shelters unbearably hot in the summer.
The government said it was doing its best to repair defects in shelters that were leaking.
"There have been some cases where people have complained that temporary shelters were damaged and we replaced them and we will do so again," said Ankita Mishra, a senior island administration official.
The government has set a new deadline of the end of this year to finish the permanent shelters but aid groups are sceptical this target will be met.
"The administration has admitted slippages and they will struggle to finish building permanent homes by 2008," Subhasis Roy of Healthy Environment and Less Pollution told Reuters in Port Blair, capital of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
The archipelago, which lies more than 1,200 km (750 miles) off India's eastern coast, is famous for its sparkling sand beaches and coral reefs, lapped by the emerald waters of the Indian Ocean.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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