Photo essay: The hungry tides of Uppada

Soil erosion in the coastal village of Uppada, in East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, India, is an old demon for its residents. It has been on the rise again recently, on account of a damaged geotextile tube wall — a semi-permanent retention wall made of permeable fabric that can filter soil. The wall was built to protect the surrounding villages from the erosion caused by sea waves. The tube -- 1,463 meters long -- was put in place between 2008-2011 at a cost of ₹12.16 crore.

Home damaged by erosion
Nearly 40 percent of Andhra Pradesh's coastal population shares the plight of the people in Uppada / Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri

The damage has occurred over time due to the theft of ropes and plastic bags — makeshift materials — used to construct the geotextile tube wall, as well as severe cyclonic storms that have battered the coast. With the wall impaired, the people of nearby villages are living in fear.

Retaining wall
Uppada lies in a high erosion-prone area in Andhra Pradesh along India's east coast, which is more vulnerable to sea-level rise / Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri

According to a study by the Andhra Pradesh Space Application Centre (APSAC), the coastline of Uppada eroded at an average rate of 1.23m per year between 1989 and 2018, with the village losing over 126.7 acres in the last four decades. The study indicated that such tubes may be effective initially but can’t stop wave patterns from eroding the coastline. The Uppada-Kakinada beach road has also been damaged four times in the past five years. A resident fisherman, Koda Srinu, said hundreds of households like his were awaiting government action on the allotment of alternative land and houses, even as the risk of losing their present homes grew, especially with the onset of the monsoon.

Fisherman Srinu
Fisherman Srinu, now 35, could not see the Bay of Bengal from his home when he was a child. Now, his hut faces the sea / Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri

The fishermen have been asking officials to get the existing wall repaired as well. They know, however, that a regularly maintained seawall is the most viable way to combat current erosion.

Basket of fish
Fishermen who live by the sea in Uppada wait to be compensated as the water steadily eats away their land / Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri

“During monsoon, high tides and cyclones, we abandon our houses and take shelter in public buildings such as schools,” said Srinu. Erosion has forced some to resettle elsewhere, but they don’t want to move too far from the coast as their livelihoods depend on the sea. While resettlement is a far cry, the villagers hope for the repair and maintenance of the damaged tubes until a more permanent solution is found.

fish fry
According to a study by the National Center for Coastal Research, erosion affected a third of India's coastal land between 1990 and 2016, erasing traditional livelihoods of local fisherman / Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri

Tanmoy Bhaduri is a Kolkata-based independent photojournalist; the photo essay was developed as part of a workshop hosted by the Earth Journalism Network in Kakinada, India, in March 2020.

Banner image: A combination of development projects, such as the dredging and construction of ports, contributes to widespread erosion in coastal India. Changes in wave intensity, rising sea levels and frequent cyclones add to the damage / Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri.

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