Yesterday was World Water Day. This year it would be pertinent to reflect on the rebuilding process and the short term needs of the hundreds of thousands displaced by the tsunami.
Water and sanitation, needless to say, have been crucial issues in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. It was a failing of all the relief structures and efforts that it took a long time for temporary camps and tented communities to acquire proper sanitation facilities. It took weeks to build temporary toilets in refugee areas leading to many other problems.
Even now many refugee camps have very minimal sanitary facilities and very little privacy for females using these facilities. In a country with a history of refugee conditions due to war and natural disasters, it is sad indeed that these basic requirements are taking so long to materialize.
The process of rebuilding and relocating entire villages away from the coastline is bound to take many months. If we compare with a disaster of somewhat similar scale, the rebuilding of damaged homes of the Gujarat earthquake of 2001 took until last year- and this with minimal relocation.
We hear of NGOs, charities and foreign organizations who have completed building a few homes here and there, but in the entire scenario these are but drops in an ocean. So if the actual rehabilitation and relocation is going to take a long time to realize, the people must be settled in a comfortable manner in their temporary locations. This has to include a good supply fresh water, proper sanitation and comfortable spaces so that people can live in these shelters without undue stress until their homes are rebuilt.
There was a recent story of displaced residents of Telwatte, Akurala and Peraliya occupying a neighbouring estate in protest of the terrible conditions of their temporary dwellings. This kind of reaction would become more common unless people are settled into a better type of temporary shelter.
With inter-monsoon conditions setting in, life under a tent has become unbearable for people in this worse affected stretch on the southern coast. Thunderstorms lash though tents and flood the entire compound. Their meagre belongings, salvaged from the wreckage and bought or donated as compensation, are at threat again from rain and this situation will only worsen when the south west monsoon sets in.
When rebuilding or relocating, it is important that homes are protected from the more common disasters- flood and drought. While preparing for another possible tsunami may be the priority for some sections, it is obvious that these people suffer more regularly from heavy rain and monsoon floods and water scarcity in drought times.
Scarcity is common along the coastal belt from Tangalle to Mulaitivu. So rehabilitation for this area should incorporate good practices like rainwater harvesting, either individually or in a community pond. In the more flood and cyclone prone areas of the south-west and east coast, there have to adequate protection against the monsoon ravages and seasonal floods.
These good practices should be insisted upon -that is the government's job in overseeing and supervising the multitude of organizations that now have a hand in rehabilitating communities and rebuilding homes for the tsunami affected.