Six months after the devastating tsunami, many displaced people are still living in canvas tents in contrast to the sunshine stories of government officials. Even in Galle, which received a substantial amount of aid and assistance in the aftermath of the December 26 disaster, compared to other districts, many people are still languishing in tents in Devata, Mahamodara and Unawatuna.
However, Galle GA, Asoka Jayasekera claims that temporary houses have been built and there was no necessity for people to live in camps. 'Five thousand four hundred and three houses were destroyed by the tsunami. We have so far built about 4000 temporary houses and the rest would be completed in about three days. There is no one living in the camps since they have been resettled in the temporary houses. Now we are focusing on building permanent houses,` Mr. Jayasekara said.
Charging that some people were staying on in the tents and not moving to temporary houses because they could get more aid and assistance from wellwishers, Mr. Jayasekera said they would be removing the tents with the help of the police.
Despite the GA's claims it is obvious to anyone who goes along the Galle coast that there are many people still living in the camps. When we visited some of these camps and told the inmates that the GA was planning to remove the tents since they had been provided temporary shelter, they retorted in anger and frustration, `If we have been provided with temporary shelter we would like to know where it is'`
Some of them are under the impression that the government was delaying providing them shelter because they would be getting permanent housing once and for all.
Some residents say that local authorities were doing little in the way of rehabilitation and most of the houses were being built by NGOs. Explaining the process, Project officer of the NGO AMURT International, Pranav Manu said the organisation had built some of the best temporary houses but they had to wait for the government to provide them with land and this was delaying their rehabilitation and construction work.
While bureaucracy appears to be delaying whatever rehabilitation and building that is being done, the long suffering people complain specially of the health hazards the children have to face living in tents.
The heat inside these tents is unbearable, during the day. When we walked into one of the tents for just a few minutes the humidity and stuffiness hit us hard and we even found it difficult to breathe. On top of the stuffiness, when it rains, the bare, flat terrain on which the tents have come up get water logged resulting in the canvas floor cover of the tent getting bloated like a water bag.
At times the muddy water comes in to the tents posing a health hazard especially to children. Listening to the woes of the inmates we found it difficult to believe that they would continue to live in these conditions if they had temporary shelter-as the GA claimed- merely to get more aid.
In Devata, few miles away from Galle town there are still 47 tents on what is called CGR watte. These tents have been donated by an Austrian NGO and we saw that about 60 families were still living in these tents, contrary to the Galle GAs claims.
An inmate of the camp K. Pushpanandan, who is a painter told us that after the tsunami not a single government official had come to see to their welfare. He also said they had not received any information about getting temporary shelter.
`We went several times to meet the Minister for Vocational Training Piyasena Gamage and the previous Galle GA, H.L Gunawardena, but their secretaries always said they were at meetings. Our village was beyond the 100m buffer zone, and because of this we are not even getting the Rs.250,000 compensation to build our wholly damaged houses. We don`t enjoy living in these conditions and government officials have no right to make sweeping accusations that we are living on in these tents, inspite of being provided temporary homes, merely to grab aid. If they don`t visit these areas how would they even know about our plight'` he asked.
When we visited another camp in Mahamodara, that has 74 tents, donated by the Italian Government, the inmates said only 10 temporary houses had been built for them so far.
`We stayed within the 100m buffer zone and our houses have been entirely destroyed. The heat in these tents in unbearable and many of us have fallen sick,` Monica Weerakody lamented.
Some of the people also accused the government of forgetting the people who lived beyond the 100m buffer zone, although they were equally affected as those living within the 100 metres. "