Facing the brunt of coastal erosion, the future of this village is uncertain

People of Uppada, a village in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, are facing the nature's wrath. Between 1989 and 2018, the coastline of Uppada has eroded at an average of 1.23 metre/year

Faizi Noor AhmadFaizi Noor Ahmad   21 Oct 2019 2:57 PM GMT

Facing the brunt of coastal erosion, the future of this village is uncertain

Uppada, Andhra Pradesh

"Our families have moved three times because of the sea entering our village," said Venkateswara Rao, head of Naikar hamlet of Uppada, which has a coastline of 5 kms and is located on the west coast of the Bay of Bengal in Kakinada division of Andhra Pradesh.

In 2008, the tidal waves from cyclone Khai Muk damaged their houses. This was not the first time that the people of Uppada, a village in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, faced the nature's wrath. The coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal have been eyeing their land since long.

Rao and his family are among the many communities living on India's coasts, on the frontline of climate change, facing a threat as India has lost 33% of its coastline to erosion in 26 years between 1990 and 2006, according to a report by the National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR), Chennai. Among other sites, the report identified the coastline of Uppada as a high erosion-prone area in Andhra Pradesh.

How has the coastline changed?

At 974 km, Andhra Pradesh has the second-longest coastline in India. Of this, between 1990 and 2012, 275 km was under erosion, 417 km showed accretion -- the process of coastal sediment returning to the visible portion of a beach or foreshore following a submersion event -- and 153 km coastline was found to be stable, as per remote sensing and GIS analysis published in 2015. (Table 1: Shoreline Erosion in Andhra Pradesh)

Between 1989 and 2018, the coastline of Uppada has eroded at an average of 1.23 metre/year. In the period of 29 years, the maximum rate of erosion was 26.3 metres/year in 2017-2018, according to a study by researchers at Andhra Pradesh Space Applications Centre (APSAC). Over 600 acres of land in the Kakinada suburbs has disappeared in the past four decades because of sea erosion, of which Uppada lost 126.58 acres, an analysis mentioned in 2012. (Chart 1: Coastal Erosion in Uppada)

Geotube to check erosion

Almost nine years back, in 2010, geosynthetic tube and bags were laid for 1,463 metres along the Uppada seashore at a cost of Rs 12.16 crore. The project was undertaken by researchers at IIT Madras and a plan to expand it along the entire coastline of Uppada at a cost of Rs 135 crore is on paper.

Geo-tubes, acting as a seawall, are giant tubes made of geotextile fabric like synthetic or natural polymer and filled with sediment. They are placed parallel to the coastline to reduce the impact of waves during high tides thus bringing down the erosion.

However, it is found that the structural measure is not efficient enough to check the erosion. After 2015, it was observed that coastal erosion has started again at the same stretch of shoreline.

Besides, due to high waves and storm surges, the tube itself was damaged in February 2017 and in 2018. In spite of the efforts, the Kakinada-Uppada beach road along which the geotube is laid was damaged in December 2016 by cyclone 'Vardah' and in May 2019 by cyclone 'Fani'.

Initially, the installation of geotube saw a period of positive coastal phenomena at many places in Uppada with the average erosion the rate at -1.98 metre/year and accretion at 7.98 metre/year making the average shoreline change rate at 6 metre/year. But the scenario changed soon after, when in 2014-15, the average erosion rate of -6.22 metre/year and accretion rate of 8.8 metre/year made the shoreline change at an average rate of -3.68 metre/year. From the year 2015 onwards, the Uppada coast had constantly eroded due to changing wave patterns and sediment transport variation said the research by Andhra Pradesh Space Applications Centre.

Before laying out the geotube, the unstable and dynamic nature of the Uppada coastline was not taken into account, thus making the geotube inefficient, the research further highlights. (Chart 2: Shoreline change in Uppada)

The geotube project has seen the light of the day in other parts of India. The tubes have been laid out at Shankarpur in West Bengal, in Mumbai, Devbag and Dahanu in Maharashtra, at Adani Port in Gujarat, and at Candolim beach in Goa. Geotube placed along an eroding coast was found to be ineffective and gets damaged early as observed by researchers at Shankarpur, Devbag and Candolim coast. The success of a geotube depends largely on the sea wave dynamics, the material properties of the tubes, foundation conditions, local scenario and expertise of the people involved, said the report.

In Sunderbans, a geotube has been approved along the 2.3 km coast of Kapil Muni temple on Sagar Island at a cost of Rs 77 crore. In Kochi, a sum of Rs 8 crore has been set aside to implement the project in Chellanam village after it was devastated by Cyclone Ockhi in 2017.

"Sea levels are rising due to climate change which, in turn, is eroding the coastlines. Around 4.3 per cent of the world's gross domestic product is being used to protect coastal regions," said K Nageswara Rao, Professor Emeritus at Department of Geoengineering, Andhra University.

"For instance, seawalls and geotubes were constructed in Kerala and Japan, but ultimately they were not able to withstand the nature's fury. Visakhapatnam has lost 54 hectares of its beach as a result of erosion. Our research has suggested that beach conservation can be feasible if measures like beach nourishment or mangrove plantation are employed. I think we tend to forget that the beach is a part of sea not land," he said.

On the land, not in the sea

East Godavari district has a fisher population of more than 3 lakh of which more than 70,000 are active. Uppada, considered a major fishing village in Andhra Pradesh, has 3,190 households with a total population of 12,964, according to the 2011 Census.

For the fishers, the sea beach has been the most important natural asset after fish and sea and their preferred spot of residence. However, because of erosion, the villagers had to leave the coast and shift backwards as the sea has encroached upon the land. This has affected not only the fishing and related activities, but also taken away an important social space for the villagers.

"Our village temple has disappeared three times in the sea," said Annavaram, 64, a fisher and one of the village elders standing in the mandapa of his current village temple. When the fish catch is highest, he earns around Rs 50,000-60,000 in a month which is not enough to feed his family of 16 members. "This is the first time in my life that the government has given us land to rehabilitate. We have two government schools, one from class 1 to class 5 and the other from class 6 to class 10; and one private school from class 1 to class 7," he said.

Anand Rao, 27, graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Applications, is still unemployed.

Due to erosion and rehabilitation, the well-off were able to move away from the beach, confining the poorest closer to the shore, thus increasing their vulnerability, as well as reducing their access to institutional support.

Anand Rao, 27, graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Applications from Aditya Degree College Kakinada, is still unemployed. "My father did not want me to be a fisher so I went for an education. But, now even after five years, I could not find a job and I do not have money to start a small-scale business either."

Rao is married and has two children -- a boy and a girl. His father, Subba Rao, 50, and elder brother, Bujji, 30, are fishers and his family survives on their income. His friends from college are settled in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. "Primarily, we are fisherfolks and love our work, but erosion and reduced fish catch have impacted our livelihood and for those who are educated, the biggest problem is unemployment. My father says that any job on the land is fine but not in the sea," says Anand with a hint of uncertainty in his eyes.

(Reporting for this story was supported by MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and Internews.)

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