A little over a hundred days after the Dec. 26 tsunami struck Sri Lanka, reconstruction efforts are far from being completed.
“There is more than one kind of disaster going on there. There is still a lot of work to be done,” John Roberts, director of the Buddhist Council of the Northwest, a nonprofit organization, said.
During a presentation in the Wyckoff Auditorium last Wednesday, Roberts, who returned from a month in Sri Lanka on Mar. 9, discussed the current status of the general reconstruction effort.
Roberts visited Godagama, a fishing village on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, as part of the reconstruction project led by the BCN and the Bellanwila Community Development Foundation, a welfare branch of the Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Godagama is located in the center of an eight-mile length of coastline that was engulfed in some places by a wall of water 33-feet-high that ran as much as 300 yards inland.
The tsunami, which destroyed three quarters of the country’s coastline, killing 31,000 and displacing over 80,000 families, devastated many fishermen’s homes and took away their livelihoods as fishing canoes and boats were broken on the rocks. Fishing nets were ripped beyond repair and many were washed out to sea, where they continue to threaten marine life.
In the first phase of the project, the Buddhist Council of the Northwest plans to rebuild 40 houses that were completely destroyed and repair 15 homes that were badly damaged. The BCN was able to start the reconstruction project as soon as they had developed plans and contracted a builder because they are building on home sites already owned by the occupants.
But, as Roberts explained, many other non-profit organizations working on reconstruction projects are on stand-by because the Sri Lankan government has yet to provide land titles.
“It’s not clear what’s holding up the government in some of these areas,” Roberts said, noting that government corruption and patronage aren’t uncommon in the country.
According to Roberts, non-profit organizations face many other challenges in the reconstruction effort. Continuous shortages of cement and sand, in addition to the lack of skilled labor, are slowing down projects.
“There is not much of a supply chain to build homes and there are not enough masons and carpenters,” Roberts said. “You can’t take sand from the coast because you’re hurting the ecology, so now sand is being imported from India, and it is very expensive,” he added.
Twenty-one-year-old Vincent Piha, sophomore communication studies major, was unaware of the many problems plaguing relief organizations.
“I thought all these organizations were pretty stable and their reconstruction plan was ready. They need physical labor rather than funds – people who are willing to help,” Piha said.
The heavy rains of the monsoon are also slowing the rebuilding pace.
“The monsoon season started and now it’s all mud,” Roberts said.
He pointed out that as reconstruction projects are put on hold, entire families who lost their homes are living in cramped tents or in fragile houses that were built during the first weeks following the disaster.
“You hear stories in the paper about organizations that are building up to 5,000 homes, but they are wooden houses, temporary transitional shelters made to last during the monsoon,” he explained.
As of Mar. 12, BCN had received over $28,000 dollars to build the first 40 homes, but a significant decline in the number of contributions has affected the reconstruction effort. Roberts explained that, in the days following the tsunami, donations poured in, but as the media coverage waned, organizations such as his are struggling to obtain the funds necessary for the rebuilding.
“At the time the whole world was captured by it, but as time goes on, it disappeared from TV and the papers. But I can’t emphasize how much work there is still to be done,” Roberts said.
On Apr. 10, a ceremony was held at Godagama in which 10 new homes were presented to the owners. Today, BCN is seeking aid for phase two of the Godagama project, which will add another 50 new homes at approximately the same cost.
Roberts, who will be returning to Sri Lanka in October, encouraged SU students to continue helping.
“Go there and help in any way. You don’t have to have special skills. There is so much you can do in so many ways,” he said. “People are still waiting. They are waiting for anybody who can offer them any kind of assistance.”
For more information on how to help, contact the Buddhist Council of the Northwest at (425) 442-0986 or visit www.buddhistcouncilnw.org