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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. 

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Coastal buffer zones keep tsunami survivors at bay

Gulf Times: 22/06/2005"
HIKKADUWA, Sri Lanka: The waterfront restaurant at the entrance to this Sri Lankan coral sanctuary survived the Asian tsunami but six months later its owner is struggling to keep his nose above water because a new “buffer zone” law prevents him from rebuilding.
The giant waves spared H A Ranjith and his family - but only just. They lost five employees, the kitchen and the 58 chairs of their Southern Cool Spot and Chinese Restaurant in the December 26 catastrophe.
But despite being willing to take the risk that another tsunami will not come smashing into the island’s coast again, Ranjith has been told by the Colombo government to comply with new laws creating a 328-656 feet coastal buffer zone.
Officials estimate that more than a million people in tsunami-hit Indian Ocean nations are facing a similar predicament due to official bans by chastened governments on reconstruction along devastated coastlines.
Entire coral islands have been abandoned in the atoll nation of Maldives while in Sri Lanka, where fishermen historically built shelters and traders their stores right up to the water’s edge, some 400,000 people are believed to be affected.
In Indonesia, 556,638 people are still displaced, with 94,800 rehoused in temporary barracks and the rest living under canvas or with friends or relatives.
Many families have staked out the plots of land where their houses once stood and pitched tents instead of taking up places in government-built barracks.
The Indonesian government initially tried to dissuade coastal residents from returning to their homes and considered a 2-km exclusion zone.
However, a blueprint released in March did not include the zone, with focus shifting to warning systems and easy escape routes.
In India, many of the 500,000 displaced are still living in temporary shelters, especially in the hard-hit Andaman and Nicobar islands.
New Delhi has declared a 200-500 metre restricted zone and survivors who want to rebuild their homes within this area are not paid compensation in a bid to discourage them.
Some international lenders, relief agencies and governments say that housing is the key to the recovery process but that knee-jerk responses in banning construction close to the beach is victimising tsunami survivors.
Former US president Bill Clinton, visiting the tsunami-hit Asian nations as UN special envoy for tsunami relief work last month, urged flexibility when it comes to enforcing zoning restrictions.
“I will use my influence with the officials to see that they be more flexible,” Clinton said last month after visiting Sri Lanka’s eastern coastal town of Kalmunai which is smack within the prohibited zone.
Clinton said he did not want politics to hold up aid to millions of Asians desperately in need of help. He has pledged to visit the region regularly to keep track of the recovery effort.
“We have successfully completed the relief phase and the biggest challenge we face now is housing,” Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told reporters recently. That is the case across Asia.
The tourist paradise of Hikkaduwa, 100km south of the capital Colombo, is now caught up in the buffer zone ban and even the tsunami-damaged police station is unable to find suitable premises out of the restricted area.
Hikkaduwa’s mayor, Manoj Jayasuriya, said his authority to grant permission for buildings in the coastal area had been usurped by the central government and he is as helpless as the 30,000 inhabitants here who are affected.
“If your house or shop was within the 100 meter buffer zone, then it is a double tragedy,” Jayasuriya said. “They can’t even get a bank loan to rebuild. That is the new law.”
Restaurant owner Ranjith is ignoring the new decree and is busy refitting his restaurant, using money raised from pawning family jewellery.
“Bank managers don’t even want to see me. They treat me like a dud coin because I am not ‘qualified’ to get a bank loan,” Ranjith said fighting off tears as two workmen repaired his dining hall.
“I have no place else to go and that is why I am rebuilding here. They should allow us to build and let us take the responsibility if there is another tsunami.”
He considers himself lucky to have held on to his drinking water supply and electricity connection - many here are unable to get the utilities re-connected due to the zone.
Utilities are being used as a bargaining chip also in India to force tsunami survivors to move out of the buffer zones.
“In some instances the government will not give water or power so that they will sign a document (and move out),” said Jesu Rethinam, chief of Coastal Action Network, an activist group. “This is compulsory relocation.”
The World Bank, which is supporting Asian nations in their recovery effort, says that any resettlement should be in consultation with the affected communities and with their agreement.
“There is a difficult balance that needs to be struck,” the Bank said in a statement. “It requires discussion and negotiation with these communities and any relocation should be done only with their consent.”
The World Bank has been critical of Sri Lanka’s zoning law as the problem is acute in the island and the ban is preventing tens of thousands of people regaining their livelihoods.
Anoma Liyanage, a beautician, is praying that she will be able to rebuild her shop-house that was razed by the raging waves. “We don’t get any help. We are the untouchables because we happen to be within the buffer zone. But we are the worst hit.” - AFP

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