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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. 

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Eastern Burghers carrying heavy burden

Daily News: 01/07/2005" by Chandani Jayatilleke

AKKARAIPATTU, It's been six months since tsunami struck Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004. Over 31,000 have died and over a lakh had been driven into camps, tents and temporary wooden houses around the island.

Survivors are still trying hard to get accustomed to their new lodgings. The living conditions in many of these temporary huts are basic. People have started realising that their loss is permanent. And at the same time, people of different communities have begun to feel the need for being with their own cultures and surroundings. They yearn to go back to their 'homes'.

Despite the tragedy, they somehow get about with their daily life uninterrupted; they send their children to the nearest school; some have even started income earning activities. Some work as unskilled labourers, while some others still await employment. For them, life is an uphill task.

However, they no longer complain about minor issues. Housing is their main worry. Many survivors say that they have received little or no help from the authorities to rebuild their houses and businesses.

Housing is the paramount need of the displaced at present. Be it South, North or the East, all survivors have one dream - a house of their own.

Government authorities and aid agencies have made promises and asked the survivors to be patient till they finalised matters, so that the affected communities could be given better facilities and housing which would help them thrive in the years to come.

In certain areas, land has become a major issue for the delay in reconstruction work. Lack of sufficient lands is a major issue in the east too. Many people in the east hesitate to move into other areas, beyond the buffer zone, saying that their livelihood would be affected if they moved out to a different area. Many of the affected people were employed as fishermen, coconut pluckers, carpenters and masons.

There is this tiny Burgher community in Akkaraipattu. They are reluctant to settle down in a village which is far. "Our soul is here. Our livelihoods are here. And we can't go to a different area at all," says Joseph Nixon, whose house got washed away. "We have just started to look for income earning activities. Some of our people have started working as labourers," he adds.

Nixon says that they can build their own home if the Government allocates a plot of land in the surrounding area and provide them a small loan.

"We can find jobs and sustain by ourselves, if we have our own place to live," he says.

At present, Nixon and 16 other families of his community live in one-roomed, wooden huts built with the assistance of an NGO and a philanthropist named, Kumari Thilip in Akkaraipattu.

These tiny houses have electricity. They get water through two large barrels. Margaret Barthlet, another survivor, said that they have just started sending their children to school. "Our children and women are safe in this camp site. However, we have limited space and there's nothing called 'ours' here. We need to get on with our lives as we did before," she says.

However, there is no way for us to rebuild our houses at the same location as it is within the 100-metre zone," she laments.

Many of these families suggested that there is a four-acre land in the close vicinity, but beyond the buffer zone. "If there is any organisation or a person, who could purchase the land, block it out, we can build our own houses," Nixon says.

The international community has pledged three billion dollars for tsunami relief and reconstruction.

According to experts, the reconstruction and rehabilitation work will cost more money and more time over the next few years. The dedication by the aid workers, agencies and the Government for a longer period is necessary to restore the lost homes and businesses.

The massive earthquake that triggered in the tip of Indonesia, swept across the Indian Ocean, sweeping away lives and communities in 12 countries - from Indonesia to Somalia on the east coast of Africa.

Governments say more than 170,000 people died or disappeared, although many aid agencies and survivors say the toll may be close to 300,000. The victims came from all over the world - at least 2,000 tourists from Europe and North America were lost from the region's beaches - making this a global disaster.

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