Tsunami Relief Effort

There is a relationship between natural disaster and law, which is yet inadequately explored. One reason for the indequacy is the exclusions that have been built into law on the ground of force majeure or "act of god". The tsunami that struck several coastal areas all the way from Indonesia to Africa left death and devastation in its wake. In addition to responses over immediate concerns including relief and temporary shelters, it is clear that other long-term issues also need to be addressed. Questions about early warning systems, coastal zone regulation, risk management and disaster have, for instance, surfaced.

Headed by IELRC’s India director, Dr Usha Ramanathan, a 15-month study has been set up to look at the tsunami affected areas of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry in South India. The aim of the study, which ends in March 2006, is to establish the relationship between law and natural disaster. Some of the issues, which have surfaced to date, include:


The death toll: Due to the nature of the disaster, issues such as death certification, compensation disbursement, heirship and succession need to be addressed differently;


The missing: The traditional rule of being missing for 7 years, for example, will have to be re-examined;


Children who have lost their parents to the tsunami: Although the children are being cared for in a variety of ways, it is evident that the options need to be monitored and assessed;


Relief: "Relief cards" which will identify affected persons urgently need to be put in place. Furthermore, issues concerning the distribution, administration and appropriateness of the relief also need to be looked at;


Compensation: Problems regarding deification of the beneficiaries of compensation, for example, will need to be addressed;


Discrimination: Caste-based discrimination has been evident in a number of ways including in the non-recognition of persons as being affected; in distribution of relief; in the provision of shelters, in compensation; in reconstruction of lives and in how caste differences for instance get internalised into the reconstruction process;


Marginalised concerns: The marginalizing of the concerns, needs, interests and rights of women and other marginalised persons/groups/identities also need to be rendered into account;


Transparency and corruption: There is a need of awareness regarding entitlement, expenditure of the resources available, channels of information and of capacity for challenge;


Participation and choice: The role of the affected people in the reconstruction process including choice, leadership and grievance procedures will need to be established;


Ex gratia, compensation, loan: The identification and distinction between what has been provided as ex gratia compensation and what are in effect loans also needs to be made;


Land and property: The question of whether the policy is to reconstruct, resettle or restore the affected also needs to be addressed. Additionally, any existing options on requisition/acquisition of land and property need to be explored;


Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZ): The status of habitation and livelihoods along the CRZ needs close monitoring;


Institutional mechanisms: in respect of issues including disbursement, care of children, and heirship, it may be necessary to set up mediation procedures and other special institutions including “lok adalats”instance;




Most importantly, a ground rule needs to be established that disaster ought not to be converted into an opportunity for displacing people from their habitat and livelihood. The right to return to their homes and the area that they inhabited before the disaster dislocated them has to be recognised, even as the communities are given the space to decide whether they want to move away, move a little distance or not move at all.

This ought not to be confused with the decisions that may be made relating to corporate endeavours such as shrimp farming or the hotel industry. The articulation of the differences is likely to become important.

The objectives would include:

  • preventing impoverishment;
  • minimising conflict;
  • moving towards participatory rebuilding of lives and livelihoods;
  • doing away with discrimination;
  • accounting for everyone.