|The first ever woman Captain or chief of the village in Car Nicobar, 48-year old Mrs. Ireena Mark demonstrates the use of a water harvesting structure.|
By Savita Varde-Naqvi
CAR NICOBAR, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India, 21 June 2005 – When the tsunami struck Ireena Mark’s village of Small Lapathy, on this tiny, idyllic island, she knew what to do.
Ireena is the ‘First Captain’ of the village, and is the only woman on the Tribal Council, the decision-making body of the indigenous Nicobarese community. She is one of the 15 Captains elected to represent the 15 villages on the island, with a population of nearly 21,000 people.
On the day of the tsunami, Captain Ireena quickly understood the impending danger to her village, located right on the seashore, and ordered people to flee – saving many lives.
But the houses and other buildings of her village were completely wiped out – as were many other villages on the island, including Arong, Sawai, Kinmai, Mus, Chukchukia, Kimius, Kakana, Tapoiming and Tamaloo. An estimated 270 of the island’s inhabitants died in the wave, and 584 people remain missing.
Support for relief and rehabilitation
When the waters receded, leaders like Ireena Mark, with support from UNICEF, made relief and rehabilitation possible in Car Nicobar.
Within a week of the disaster, UNICEF doctors were in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands working to get emergency services to children in the most inaccessible areas. The doctors helped provide measles immunization and vitamin A supplementation for all children between six months and five years of age across the islands.
UNICEF provided clean drinking water and distributed 110,000 packets of Oral Rehydration Salts. Other essential supplies – including vaccination equipment, instruments for testing water quality, 21,000 bednets for preventing malaria and 40,000 tubes of mosquito repellent – were distributed on the worst-affected islands of Car Nicobar, Katchal, Kamorta, Teressa, Trinket and Great Nicobar. The Department of Health Services played an essential role in overcoming logistical problems, which were compounded by tsunami damage to jetties and landing facilities.
The inhabitants of the villages which were wiped out have been relocated to higher, safer inland locations. With 3,866 temporary shelters now built in Car Nicobar, relief operations have moved into the recovery mode. UNICEF is using this opportunity to make sure that replacement buildings and facilities are superior to the ones that were destroyed by the tsunami.
Water and sanitation
The tsunami severely damaged the water supply infrastructure and some wells were flooded with salt water. While the Andaman Public Works Department was building the temporary shelters for relocated people, UNICEF focused efforts on improving water and sanitation.
The organization deployed six water and sanitation engineers and 44 expert masons to construct around 7,000 latrines. New galvanized iron sheets covering roofs of temporary shelters have made channelling rainwater into storage tanks easier. Five hundred-litre tanks provided by UNICEF have been installed near all the relocated villages. With heavy monsoons setting in, UNICEF is now promoting rainwater harvesting.
UNICEF staff have helped maintain sanitary conditions in the temporary shelters by providing hygiene education to residents, focusing on proper use of latrines, hand washing and the importance of chlorinating drinking water.
Captain Ireena tells everyone how they can do it. “And don’t forget to boil the water even if you have filtered it through a cloth! It is always safer,” she says.
20 June 2005:
Chris Niles reports on how UNICEF is helping the inhabitants of the remote Andoman and Nicobar islands.