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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. 

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Tsunami: 500,000 still homeless

Guardian: 19/06/2005" Peter Beaumont

SIX months after the tsunami swept into the island of Sri Lanka, demolishing communities along 400 miles of coast, up to 500,000 survivors have still not been rehoused.

This estimate - by the charity Christian Aid - comes after relief workers warned last week that most of those still in emergency accommodation, many of them from the fishing communities that once lined the beaches, are unlikely to have new homes even by the first anniversary of the Boxing Day disaster.

Thousands of them are in emergency tents, while tens of thousands more occupy more solid housing of variable quality - some of it with sanitation and drainage that relief workers fear will not cope with the coming monsoon season.

While other countries struck by the tsunami have begun rebuilding towns and villages, the Sri Lankan government has been involved in a row over a plan for the two sides in the country's civil war to pay out redevelopment funds jointly. The Sinhalese Marxist JVP blocked the Tamil Tigers' involvement, and quit the government in protest last week.

The infighting has resulted in the survivors of a disaster which killed more than 30,000 people being plunged into a prolonged and humiliating limbo.

At the heart of the problem is not only the political disagreement over co-operation with the Tigers, but a decision to impose 'buffer zones' along the coast stretching between 100 and 200 metres inland, where new construction is forbidden to guard against the risk of a future tsunami.

The disclosure of the vast numbers still trapped in transitional accommodation, unable to work and dependent on handouts, comes as the rainy season begins, making it unlikely that any major construction will begin until December.

'We calculate that there are half a million people waiting to be permanently housed,' says Aruni John of Christian Aid, which, with its partner charities, is helping more than 100,000 tsunami victims. 'Six months on, it is a horrible situation for people to be in.'

The problem of rehousing Sri Lanka's tsunami homeless has been exacerbated by a series of land issues. Over 70,000 houses were destroyed or so badly damaged that they will require rebuilding.

However, only just over 1,000 new homes have been built, with little prospect of many more in the coming months.

Land for resettlement is at a premium. Many of those whose houses were outside the new buffer zones and would like to rebuild cannot prove they owned the land on which their homes were built.

On top of that is the fact that Sri Lanka's primitive fishing fleet requires its fishermen to be housed close to their boats.

The long delay has led to other unwanted effects that threaten to undermine Sri Lanka's peace process, with rumours circulating displaced and angry Tamil communities that the delay is designed to move them out of their communities.

While the government has repeatedly denied the existence of widespread problems in rehousing tsunami victims, aid agencies that had been keeping silent while trying to encourage more urgent action have begun to voice their frustration.

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