Two years ago, drought-stricken farmers in a village on the southern coast of India walked into the Guinness Book of World Records by planting the highest number of saplings in a 24-hour period.
On Dec. 26, as the killer tsunami struck down thousands of people and homes in Tamil Nadu state, the casuarina and eucalyptus trees that had been planted to appease the weather gods saved the lush green village of Naluvedapathy.
Of the nearly 8,000 people who died in the state, including 6,000 in one fishing village, only seven were from Naluvedapathy.
“We knew the trees would be a good wind barrier but never thought it would work one day as a water barrier as well,” said Sudeep Jain, a top local government official.
“We planted trees for invoking rain gods as this area had faced drought for several years. No one ever imagined it could save the village from a disaster like a tsunami.”
The casuarina trees, which numbered more than 60,000, took the brunt of the tsunami waves as they swept Naluvedapathy.
The giant waves inundated dozens of thatched-roof houses in the village as they swept inland to a distance of a mile from the shore.
But the casuarina trees had considerably weakened the waves and reduced the impact, villagers said.
“We are alive today only because of the trees. It was probably God who guided the plantation,” said Bagyam, a 52-year-old laborer who lived near the shore.
The waves felled the first two rows of casuarina trees which grew on sandy ridges on the beachfront, and uprooted dozens of solar-powered lamp posts in the village, which sits at the mouth of the Addapar river on the Bay of Bengal.
Authorities are now proudly showcasing the benefits of tree plantation in mitigating the impact of natural disasters, pointing to Naluvedapathy’s example in an effort to encourage a coastal green belt.
Plan to widen coverage
Three hundred farmers had toiled hard to plant a world record 80,244 saplings on December 2, 2002, overturning a previous record of 42,182 trees planted in Nilgiris, also in Tamil Nadu.
The saplings were planted in a long coastal strip spread over 20 hectares, giving Naluvedapathy a natural green cover.
Jain, who led the plantation drive as the village’s top government official, has started a trust since the tsunami struck to undertake tree plantation along the 600-mile coast of Tamil Nadu with the help of his engineering school classmates.
“We don’t need to anymore advertise the benefits of tree plantation... (It) is the cheapest and best way of rehabilitating the tsunami ravaged coastline,” he said.
Villagers say trees are perhaps the only defense against a future tsunami. “Every village on the coast should plant trees. We know the worth of trees, it’s more precious than your life,” Madiyazhakan, a 55-year-old farm laborer, said with a wide grin.