On 26 December 2004, a devastating tsunami hit the coasts of South and South East Asia, causing the deaths of over 200,000 people and enormous environmental damage.
Poor people suffered the most from the tsunami as their fragile homes, built along the coasts, were washed away. Many of them also are heavily dependent on coastal nature for their livelihoods and for their safety. Mangroves, coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems provide a range of benefits and resources that support livelihoods like: fishing, agriculture, fuel, fresh water, medicines.
Coastal nature also forms a natural barrier, a green belt, against natural disasters like floods and cyclones. Damage assessments indicate that areas with a relatively intact, natural shoreline were in some cases less affected by the tsunami. Furthermore these marine and coastal ecosystems support a diversity of natural life, including birds, fish and sea turtles.
Soon after the tsunami, NGOs in the affected countries appealed for support in their efforts to recover damaged coastal ecosystems and to reform coastal policies. Following these urgent pleas from their local partners, four international organisations developed the project:
Green Coast: for nature and people after the tsunami.
Oxfam Novib supported the initiative and provided a budget of € 4.4 million, raised by Dutch charity funds, for Green Coast. In the history of humanitarian aid, it had not happened before that such amount of relief funds were allocated to the restoration and sustainable management of coastal nature as the basis for people’s livelihoods.
Even prior to the tsunami disaster disadvantaged groups like scheduled castes and tribes, landless labourers and artisans, were surviving in a strongly marginalised position. Yet in the process of post-tsunami relief these groups are at risk of being bypassed, or having their rights not acknowledged and taken from them.
Up to four times as many women as men died in the tsunami. They were often at home, while the men were out working. Efforts to save their children slowed their flight. The reasons vary, but according to an Oxfam report, one of the common factors was that many men were out fishing or working in the fields. In India women from coastal communities traditionally waited on the beaches to unload the fish from the boats. In most of the affected countries few women could swim or climb trees.
In this respect the position of women in many communities is notably vulnerable. In many areas women have been disproportionably hit by the tsunami and its after effects, both in terms of loss of life as loss of means of existence. Moreover, existing gender related power inequalities in the coastal regions have been exacerbated by the tsunami disaster, e.g. in terms of tenure arrangements, access to resources, credit and aid.
In some areas almost the entire female population disappeared. How are the lives of the surviving women affected by the tsunami? Assessments conducted by Green Coast partners gather more information on the differences in the position of women and men. What is their legal status, both in customary law and in formal legislation? What are their rights, who decides? Who does the work and who gets the benefits: men or women?