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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. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sri Lanka's tsunami fishermen not all at sea

ReliefWeb: 25/09/2005" by Amal Jayasinghe

MANALKADU, Sri Lanka, Sept 25 (AFP) - Fishermen who survived the tsunami in this small village in northern Sri Lanka are no longer in the same boat -- some have their own, the rest wish that they did.

Almost nine months after the catastrophe, 32 of the 235 families who lost everything to the giant waves have received replacement fishing boats from foreign donors. The others are still waiting.

The formula worked out by the authorities was simple: the families who lost the most would be the first to be compensated.

Since everyone lost their houses, the test became one of how many family members were lost to the crashing seas.

Out-of-work fisherman V. Anthonymuttu, 50, who lost his wife and three grandchildren, aged five years, one year and 10 days, has no quibbles with the system, although it dashed his hopes of an early return to the ocean.

"The village got 32 boats in two batches and they went to people who lost most members of their family," Anthonymuttu told AFP here. "There are many others who lost more family members than I did."

The waves left nothing of Manalkadu village except the St. Anthony's church that turned into a safe haven for the villagers until temporary shelters were built with contributions from seven countries.

The village, sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and sand dunes of the Jaffna peninsula, saw a rush of local and foreign relief agencies after the December 26 disaster, but the international wave of sympathy has since receded. The promised money has been slow to trickle through.

The government's main agency coordinating relief, TAFREN, or the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation, estimates it needs 200 million dollars to revive the fisheries sector, but pledges by foreign donors add up only to 125 million dollars. The actual funding received so far is even less.

It says over a million fishing nets and 17,000 boats were completely destroyed but aid for replacing them has been slow.

"We haven't got a single donor to replace the (bigger) multi-day boats that were lost," said TAFREN official in Colombo, Rasika Hewage.

Of the 31,000 people killed in the tsunami, 27,000 were members of fishing communities, according to official figures.

The families in Manalkadu are better off than those in other parts of the Jaffna peninsula. Here around one in seven families were given boats, while elsewhere the figure is one in 18.

"We have been forgotten by the rest of the world," says fisherman Joseph Udayan, 34, who is desperate for a boat so he can get back to work to earn enough to build a new home.

The tsunami was a double whammy for the villagers who had been displaced several times due to heavy fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in the past three decades.

Most were rebuilding their bomb-damaged dwellings after the February 2002 truce when the tsunami washed away all their homes in this area held by government forces.

Now they are living in tin-roofed sheds covered by white plastic sheets marked with the logo of the UN refugee agency. The shelters are barely habitable in the sweltering temperatures.

Only a few children could be seen playing in the open space under palmyrah palms. Of the 73 people who perished in the tsunami here, 50 were young boys and girls and toddlers.

S.K. Thambimuttu, 32, lost his three children -- aged six, four and two. Their bodies were found three days later.

He has no savings and no relatives to help, but he clings to the hope that he might yet get a boat and fishing gear to go back to work.

Fisherman S. Ratnaseelan, 42, says the flood of foreign aid workers has vanished and it appears the village is off the radar of aid agencies.

"How many NGOs (non-governmental organisations) came here just after the tsunami? But today you don't see them," Ratnaseelan said at the refugee camp.

A white sign board written in English, which many here do not understand, lists Germany, the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Japan and the Netherlands as having contributed toward the temporary shelters.

Villagers say they can build their own homes, provided they can get back to work. A fishing boat complete with gear costs around 3,000 dollars, a small fortune for anyone here.

Placida Arulananthan, 24, who is studying to be a Catholic nun, says the villagers simply want to go back to what they love the most and do the best -- fishing.

"These people say they are not waiting for the government to build houses for them," she said. "What they desperately need are boats."

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