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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

Sri Lanka's idled tsunami survivors strive for work

Reuters: 23/06/2005" By Simon Gardner
MARUTHANKERNY NORTH, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - It wouldn't take much to help Sri Lankan seamstress Srishanthini Vetharniyam recover some semblance of the life that Asia's tsunami washed away. A simple sewing machine would do it.

But when her village at the Indian Ocean island's northern tip was reduced to shards, so too was her livelihood and like thousands of fellow survivors living on handouts six months after the tsunami, she yearns to work and earn.

So the 20-year-old has spent the past two months helping out at a hospital, sweeping, cleaning, filing -- and praying that she will be on the receiving end of a haphazard international aid bonanza that is missing out some of Sri Lanka's poorest.

"I am working as a volunteer. It is far better than just staying at home, because I am doing social work for the people," she smiled as she helped nurses at the Rural Hospital in the village of Maruthankerny North, deep in Tamil Tiger rebel territory.

"If the tsunami had not affected us, I would have ... carried on with my sewing and life would have been very much better," she added, proudly showing off a green floral-print dress that she made herself.

Her brother is one of a lucky few. He is back at sea fishing and ecstatic at a day's catch worth 2,000 rupees ($20).

But of the 125 families living in this camp of rudimentary concrete and matted palm frond houses, built a mile and a half (2.4 km) inland from a beachfront still strewn with rubble and bare concrete foundations, just 10 families are back at work.


Most were only able to salvage a few belongings -- a battered cooking pot, plastic cups, a few clothes. And they still rely heavily on doles of lentils, rice, flour and fish. Those who had tools, boats and fishing nets lost them to the waves.

Around 500,000 survivors are still living with relatives, in tents or in temporary houses and the state tsunami reconstruction agency estimates 275,000 people were left unemployed in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami.

The International Labour Organization says 60 percent of people they surveyed in eight districts are working again.

"There are still 40 percent who are not back to work, and fishing -- it's about half of the fishermen who are back to work," said Christine Enzler, a needs assessment official for the U.N. agency.

Some aid workers said the real picture is even bleaker.

"There are 650 people in this camp. Nobody goes to work," said 24-year-old Kandiah Srirangini, a volunteer with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) humanitarian arm, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation.

"The reason is they have not been provided the equipment," she added. "So they are just staying at home."

Government plans to share $3 billion in pledged tsunami aid with the Tigers should help speed the flow of aid.

Relief agencies and foreign donors are giving out grants and loans to small businesses and have set up cash-for-work programmes, whereby survivors are paid around 400 rupees ($4) a day to clear debris and help build temporary shelters and roads.


"The point of the cash-for-work programmes is to at best help normalise their lives and try to minimize a dependency mentality that may be created as a result of cash handouts," said Piyumi Samaraweera, spokeswoman for state reconstruction coordinator Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation.

"Once housing and living is normalized, livelihood becoming normalized becomes that much easier," she added. Nearly 40,000 people were killed along Sri Lanka's battered southern, eastern and northern shores.

Some aid workers cite examples of newly donated boats sitting idle on beaches or hidden from view as some opt to rely on handouts. Grief is another hurdle.

Housewife Viyarseeli Nadarajahlingam, 32, managed to find a job making and repairing clothes, but she is tormented by the loss of her six children -- the youngest just a year old -- who she saw drown in front of her eyes as she clung to a palm tree.

Sorrow has given way to anger, she constantly feels ill and she cannot face the job.

"If I go back to tailoring, when I sew little children's garments I will get reminded of the past," she said, grating coconut into a cooking pot in Arasady Camp, a few miles away.

Living conditions are basic in her new temporary home, but a marked improvement from the makeshift tent she was living in when Reuters visited her in March.

"My husband is unable to do any work because he has lost all of the tools he had," she added, a collage of photographs of her six children hanging over the doorway.

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