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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Much maligned NGOs fill a gap in tsunami-hit Lanka

Hindustan Times: "11/04/2005 PK Balachandran

NGO-bashing is currently a favourite pastime in Colombo, the capital city of tsunami-hit Sri Lanka. The International NGOs, or INGOs as they are called, come in for special flak. They are dubbed as huge hoaxes, money milking machines, Christian proselytisers, and worst of all, a threat to the sovereignty of the country.

But in the tsunami-hit areas of the island, the victims have a somewhat different view of these organisations. Admittedly, the refugees are not too happy with the temporary shelters built for them by these NGOs, but they are glad that they have some sort of a roof over their heads, and thank these organizations for that.

The government, on the other hand, comes in sharp criticism for utter inaction.

"If any reconstruction work is being done at all, it is done by the NGOs, especially the INGOs," is a refrain one constantly heard in Sri Lanka's North East, the worst affected part of the island country, during a recent tour.

One of the most telling quotes this writer got was from Udumanachchi, a Muslim woman in Sainthamaruthu, a devastated fishing village in South Eastern Sri Lanka, who had lost two of her children in the Boxing Day disaster.

"But for these Vellakaarar (Whites), we too would have perished," Udumanachchi said standing beside a gleaming, tin-roofed, one- room, wooden house built by one of the many international NGOs working in North Eastern Sri Lanka.

"The government does nothing other than giving us food coupons worth Rs 375/- per person per week. Even water supply and debris clearance are done by private organisations, mostly from abroad," said Iftikar, another refugee.

It seems that the people do not know that the government has, by policy, left the construction of temporary shelters to the NGOs. The government is going to concentrate on the construction of permanent houses. But this needs big money, and that is yet to come. The NGOs are thus filling a gap.

However, there may be substance in the other criticism that government is not providing some other essential services, like the supply of water and the provision of health facilities.

"In the immediate aftermath of tsunami, doctors used to visit the camps, but now they do not," said an inmate in a camp in Thirukkovil in Amparai district.

The rations given by the government are also not of good quality, always. "The stomach gets upset," complained KLM Farooq of Poonochimunai, a Muslim camp in Batticaloa district.

Attack on NGOs

However, despite the admitted incapability of the government to handle all the tasks by itself, and its conscious policy of co-opting NGOs and INGOs in the work, stinging criticism of the NGOs and INGOs is in full swing in Colombo. What is surprising (and disturbing as well) is that the worst critics are part and parcel of the government!

The attack on the NGOs comes from the Sinhala-nationalist forces, particularly, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which is part of the ruling United Peoples' Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Full Story..

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