In Chellanam panchayat, a growing number of environmental refugees

Several families have been left homeless by the raging sea

Azheekkal Mathews Joseph is in tears as he talks of his house, located hardly 150 metres from the seawall along the Bazaar coast in Chellnam panchayat, that cannot be rebuilt. A massive coconut tree that fell over the roof in strong winds and high waves about three months ago has forced him to seek shelter in a rented home in Kumbalanghi. The house is now unliveable, filled with sand and debris brought in by the waves.

The walls of the house have irreparable cracks and the door and window frames are shaky. Mr. Joseph used about two metres of discarded electrical cable to prevent one of the door frames from collapsing. He says he wants to come back to the house where his memories are, but the fear of the sea keeps him away. He recalls how the house by the sea, with its 13 members, was a lively one. The family members are now dispersed, looking for both work and safety.

Mr. Joseph is part of the growing number of environmental refugees from Chellanam panchayat, rendered homeless by a merciless sea. But, the sea is also what provides them sustenance in fishing and related activities. There are dozens of such families in the coastal village — living from day to day, fearing the waves, and praying for the elements to relent.

P.J. George, a 58-year-old carpenter who lived along the Chellanam coast, talks of how calm the sea used to be. The memories are vague, he says, because the present troubles are disturbing. He has taken refuge in a rented house in Karimancherry with his family, where he struggles to meet daily expenses.

The coastal segment in Bazaar, Velankanni, and Chalakkadavu in Chellanam is a picture of desolation. The sea is a perpetual threat. With most of the affected persons depending on fishing, the families are unable to shift to safer areas. People’s lives and property are in constant danger. But, life goes on.

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