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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. 

Friday, May 20, 2005

It’s still a life in limbo

Sunday Times: 15/05/2005"

Nobody seems to care By Nawaratna Samaratunga
AMPARA: With nearly 20,000 houses damaged, the Ampara district was one of the worst affected regions by the December 26 tsunami, but little has been done to rebuild these partially or completely destroyed houses.

Many coastal villages inclduing Periyanilaweli, Maruthamunai, Pandirippu, Karthivu, Kalmunai, Sainthaamaruthu Ninthavur, Akkaraipattu, Tirukkovil, Potuvil and Panama were badly hit.

According to figures compiled by the District Secretary, 17,018 temporary houses are needed, but so far only 8,016 have been put up. Additional District Secretary Asanka Abeywardene said although lands have been allotted and surveys completed, construction is yet to begin. He also stressed with the onset of the monsoon it was urgent to provide the displaced people proper shelter.

About 152,000 people are still languishing in 25 welfare centres throughout the district, The Sunday Times learns. In addition to the housing problem, the fishing industry- the main livelihood of the people- is yet to pick up. Many fishing boats were either washed away or badly damaged by the catastrophe, causing a loss of about Rs. 15, 319 million.

The other sectors affected include agriculture that suffered a loss of Rs. 28.2 million, the health sector Rs. 424.5 million, the road network Rs. 545.7 million, the water supply Rs.66 million, electricity Rs. 172.3 million, irrigation Rs. 33.4 million and postal services Rs. 9.9 million.

In Arugambay some of the hotels have come up and business seems to be picking up. But those forced to live in the makeshift camps are not happy with the progress of rehabilitation work. Many of them ask the same question, "what is the government doing when compared with the work done by NGOs."

R.Kirubakaran of Pandiruppu, said, "I have four children and we lost our cattle and poultry to the tsunami. We lived near the kovil and soon after the disaster we moved to a temple in Tissapura. Then we moved to the refugee camp at Fatima school. The government said they would be giving Rs. 5,000 a month, but so far we have got only 10,000. I was a carpenter but now I cannot work as I lost everything to the sea. It was a Buddhist monk and the STF that came to our aid. We are now roughing it out in a temporary house, which is very hot by day and night. My children are unable to go to school as the tsunami took away their mode of transport, the bicycle. Nobody seems to care about us."

The Grama niladhari S.Nadarajah who was also affected said, "The tsunami destroyed the houses and I lost some of my relatives. I now live in a relative's house. About 300 people died in my area and most of the survivors are living in tents and many have lost their means of livelihood. "

S.Rasamma lamented that this was the first time she was living in a refugee camp." We have very little facilities. We couldn't even celebrate the New Year. The government's promises are merely confined to talk over the radio and TV.

NGOs came to our rescue By Gamini Mahadura
GALLE: Only about 50 permanent houses have come up in this badly affected district, and that too courtesy of non governmental organisations, say angry tsunami survivors.

In Galle destrict alone, there are still as many as 26 refugee camps and 10 of them are located in schools, disrupting the education of many students. Although 2,739 temporary houses have been built, about 2,000 more are needed.

T. Sunil de Silva, a labourer at the Galle Municipal Council now lives in a welfare centre in a cemetery in Dadolla. He says, "We cannot live like beggars indefinitely. It's nearly five months since we have been confined to the camp. We have had enough of living in a camp located in a cemetery. There are 328 of us living in this hell hole.

"We urgently request the government to give us temporary houses, or else we will take to the road. Our camp is only 30 metres away from the sea and at night we leave this place and spend the night in the temple close by. We did not get tents neither are we getting the Rs. 250,000 compensation via state banks as we have no land outside the 100 metre buffer zone," Mr. de Silva said.

Thirty-six year-old V.Piyalatha said, "We lived in the housing scheme belonging to the Galle MC. We did not get deeds for these houses and the scheme was badly damaged by the tsunami. Although the officials have designated them as half destroyed houses we have been forced to reoccupy them as we have no where else to go.

K.Pushpananda a woman at the Katugoda welfare camp said 61 families were living in misery in 42 tents. "The question is when will we be eligible to get even temporary houses. No one knows where we are heading. We would have died of hunger, had not the NGOs come to our rescue," she lamented.

G.P.Dissanayake of Dadalle said that the heat in the camps during the day was terrible and when it rained it was even worse with the whole place getting flooded. However she said they were at least thankful that the ICRC had provided them with tents.

N.K.Ratnayake of Habaraduwa said, " more than 200 families in our village were displaced by the tsunami, but only 49 families have been selected to receive houses. We are not clear of the selection process.

Neither the Grama Sevaka nor the District Secretary has an answer. We have to depend on the NGOs as no one has come from the state sector." While the plight of these refugees is pathetic, it appears that the state machinery is unable to cope with the enormity of the tsunami tragedy. The district's UDA has only three technical officers and this has delayed the building of temporary houses.

Only foundation stones By Premasiri Weerasinghe
HAMBANTOTA: After more than four months, tsunami victims in Hambantota are seeing very little by way of housing, although foundation stones have been laid for several new housing schemes. More than 1,500 people are still living with only basic facilities in tents provided by local and foreign donors.

Officials say about 79,000 people were displaced, about 4,000 houses destroyed and about 3000 houses partially damaged in the catastrophe. Although the government has promised to build about 6,500 houses, so far only about 100 have been completed, some displaced people complain. In Tangalle, 50 families have received houses.

A new town, Siribopura is to be established three kilometres away from the Hambantota town for which the foundation stone was laid by the President and other ministers on January 19, but only 25 houses sponsored by the Subodhi foundation have come up so far.

Though some displaced people have moved into these houses they complain that they lack electricity and other infrastructure facilities. Though work on other housing projects has begun, the pace of work is slow and in some cases only the ground work like forest clearing has begun.

In February, Minister John Seneviratne visited Mayurapura where plans were drawn up for a project for 70 houses, but little progress has been made. On the same day Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse visited Hambantota, where a foundation stone was laid for a World Vision funded project for 116 houses, but work is yet to begin, The Sunday Times learns.

Hambantota Mayor D. A. Gamini said the tsunami devastated nearly two thirds of the coastal belt and those displaced were still roughing it out in three camps.

Adding that the government had started building temporary houses recently, he said it would take about six months to a year to provide houses with proper facilities. "The government does not even have a short term plan and even our views are disregarded.

The chaotic situation is mainly due to government inactivity. I discussed this with the Prime Minister at the District Development Council meeting too," he said. He also said that in addition to building houses the business community should be helped to restart their livelihoods.

Some houses coming up By Sinniah Gurunathan
TRINCOMALEE: Unlike in other districts, some construction appears to be taking place here. Thirty two NGOs have signed MoUs with the Government Agent, Gamini Rodrigo to construct houses for tsunami victims and a Lions Club project has started to build 100 houses at Cassim Nagar in Kuchchaveli.

In other areas land is being located and blocked out and once UDA approval is obtained, donors will begin construction," Ishan Wijettilake, District Manager of Tsunami Housing Resettlement Unit said. According to THRU sources, 6615 houses had been damaged within the buffer zone and 673 outside the buffer zone.

Govt. takes over unclaimed tsunami-aid containers
The Social Services Department is taking steps to clear nearly 300 tsunami aid containers which are held up in the Colombo port due to non-payment of customs duties, a Social Services Department official said..

Social Service Department Deputy Director M. I. Pereira said these containers contained about 3,000 tons of rice, clothes and food items including packets of noodles, biscuits and milk and canned food.

He said the department would clear the containers, sort out the items and store them in its warehouses for distribution among the tsunami-affected people.

Mr. Pereira said some of the food items were outdated while some clothes were not suitable for distribution. "We have to check item by item before they are distributed to the people," he said.

Voice of women should be heard in tsunami rebuilding, says top UN official By Chandani Kirinde
The voice of women needs to be heard in the post-tsunami rebuilding process if the work is to be successful, a top UN official in charge of women empowerment has said.

"Women are not just victims they are survivors and they need to be part of the solution. They should be engaged in the decision-making process," Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNDFM) said in an interview with The Sunday Times

Dr. Heyzer was on a four-day visit to Sri Lankan to study the post-tsunami rehabilitation process. During her visit to Galle and other tsunami-hit areas, Dr. Heyzer met many women who survived the December 26 catastrophe. She said she was encouraged by the enthusiasm these women had shown to get on with their lives but felt they needed help to do so.

"The women are very concerned about the tsunami grants being disbursed among the displaced but many of the women don't have access to these grants as the money goes to the heads of the households who are men. The same applied to bank accounts and this made it extremely difficult for the women to gain access to the rebuilding process," she said.

Dr. Heyzer said a survey done recently in tsunami-hit areas showed that 40 percent of women want future property in their name while another 40 percent said they want joint ownership while only a minority said the property should be in the name of a man.

She said the voices of women were not heard at the level of policy-making or even at the level of camp management when it was very important that their views also be heard. "They should be able to shape resource allocation so that it goes to the right places," Dr. Heyzer said.

"The women want to be able to rebuild their lives with a strong economic base. We want to help them move up the economic value chain to position themselves better in the whole market system," she said.

Dr. Heyzer said she had met with coir workers in Galle and was concerned that the women had to go to pits to collect the raw materials and it was necessary to find a way so they could work in safer and less hazardous environment.

She said many of the affected women had taken loans and steps should be taken to write their debts off, just like debts of tsunami-affected countries were written off.

2 billion for land: UDA By Marisa de Silva
The UDA has estimated that about Rs. 2.2 billion rupees would be needed to acquire private land for the resettlement of tsunami victims residing within the 100m buffer zone.

This amount is subject to change, as it's only a general estimation based on the varied land value of the respective areas, UDA, Director General K.V. Dharmasiri, said. Furthermore, once the Government Valuer, makes his estimation and the Government negotiates with land owners, this amount is likely to change, he added.

In addition, the UDA doesn't handle any funds and therefore, the allocated funds would have to be transferred directly from the Treasury to the Lands Ministry.

According to reports compiled by the TAFREN, a total of 77,561 houses island-wide have been fully/partially damaged, of which, 50-55,000 were within the buffer zone .

Already 170 MoU's have been signed with 111 donors to rebuild 36,603 houses in the resettlement land identified by the Government. Although, initially, there had been 212 pledges made by donors to build 96,630 housing units, only 111 have been realised. A minimum of Rs. 500,000 rupees per house has been allocated, a spokesperson for TAFREN.

The breakdown of the 36,603 houses to be built are Ampara - 7011, Batticaloa - 4486, Colombo - 2288, Galle - 2495, Gampaha - 901, Jaffna - 1848, Kalutara - 4075, Matara - 2278, Mullathivu - 1000, Trincomalee - 4329 and Hambatota - 4183

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