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Some impacts of the devastating Tsunami of 26 December 2004 on Agriculture and Mineral Resources in India

Last modified January 17, 2005 18:54

Many heavily populated coasts, notably those of Chile, Peru, Japan and Hawai, in the Pacific Ocean have been swept again and again by great waves known as ‘Tsunami’ surging as high as 20 m above normal sea level. Most of them follow strong earthquakes, but violent volcanic explosions start some of them.

Many heavily populated coasts, notably those of Chile, Peru, Japan and Hawai, in the Pacific Ocean have been swept again and again by great waves known as ‘Tsunami’ surging as high as 20 m above normal sea level.  Most of them follow strong earthquakes, but violent volcanic explosions start some of them. Most large Tsunamis in the Pacific originate at one or another of the great submarine troughs or trenches. Arrival of a Tsunami near the coast is often preceded by a withdrawal of the sea, sometimes well below normal low tide.
But the Tsunamis in those parts of the world recently hit (South Asia and South East Asia) are rare; but when it happens, it is often deadly. There was a Tsunami that struck the west coast of India in 1945 following an earthquake in the Arabian Sea very close to the border of Iran and Pakistan. It was a huge Tsunami and it affected what is today the Indian States of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. There were three waves and the second one had the highest amplitude of nearly 12 meters. Earlier, a Tsunami arising from the Krakatoa Volcano eruption struck India and lot of people died in Nagapattinam and other coastal towns in Tamil Nadu State of India.
As to the impacts of the recent deadly Tsunami, it seems it has not finished with wreaking destruction on the coast yet. According to agricultural experts, all land that was deluged by the waves will not be producing anything at least for three long years, a figure that could even increase. Salty seawater has a burning and scorching effect on the soil. So long as the high salt content remains in the soil, nothing will grow.
An intensive crop damage assessment has been made in Nagapattinam district, during the first fortnight of January 2005, besides identification of 4,000 hectares of paddy land that would require treatment for soil reclamation.  In the seawater-inundated areas, the pH has gone up very high, because there is an abnormal presence of salt in the soil. Hence any further cultivation in the affected land may become impossible for at least the next three years, if at least the monsoons will come to leach the salt.  The situation is actually alarming here. It’s like eating salt and then drinking water. Only consistent drinking (rain for the agriculture) can wash away its bitter effect.
Application of gypsum (calcium sulphate) towards soil reclamation is one viable option. However, in the absence of rains, gypsum cannot neutralise the Tsunami effect immediately. What’s more, farmers will also feel the pinch of its cost, having to consistently apply 2 MT gypsum per hectare for the next three years. Considering that gypsum costs about £ 30 a MT, farmers of Nagapattinam alone would have to shell out nearly £ 1.2 million for the purpose. It is among many other aspects here where national and international support would be extremely helpful.
So, there’s a double loss for farmers. First they need to spend huge money towards soil reclamation. Second, till such time normal cultivation resumes, they also have to bear with crop loss. The Tsunami has really rubbed salt in the farmer’s wounds. Till the Tsunami struck, farmers in Nagapattinam had abundant yield of groundnut, pulses and paddy. However, experts feel that in case gypsum is not applied, the agricultural scenario here should undergo a radical change.  Farmers will have to go in for crop diversification in place of keeping their land fallow. It is expected that cultivation of salt-resistant crops would get a fillip while the traditional crops could be done away with.
Finally, amidst all the tragic news coming in the wake of the December 26 Tsunami, there is one that should bring some cheer to Indians. The natural phenomenon seems to have left behind millions of tons of titanium ore on the beaches of the state of Tamil Nadu (India). Titanium is as strong as steel, but 45 percent lighter and is extensively used for consumer products such as automobiles, computers and mobile phones. Considering that known global resources of the ore are in the region of 285 million tons and titanium is among the most sought after metals in the world, you could call these a silver lining.  If exploited, the money should be used to support the re-establishment of viable agricultural production in the area.

Dr. Haripada Das, Director, Agricultural Meteorology Division, IMD, Pune and INSAM Vice-President
[Edited by Kees Stigter]

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