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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. 

Monday, November 14, 2005

Revival of life in Tsunami-hit Southern Province

Daily News: 05/11/2005"

DAILY NEWS Journalist Indeewara Thilakarathne recently toured the Southern coastal belt to assess the progress of tsunami reconstruction.

THE sun blazes over the vast expanse of the Southern coastline against the Indian Ocean. The sea is now claimed and quite as if nothing had happened but everybody knows the death and the physical destruction brought about by the South Asian Tsunami.

Before the tsunami hit, livelihood in this part of the country was sustained by the fishing and the flourishing tourism industry that brings much needed foreign exchange to the country besides creating direct employment and an equal number of indirect jobs for youth. The tsunami waves had wiped out entire communities.

Nearly one year on, life is beginning to kick up with the gradual arrival of tourists, still made up largely of international volunteers who had been working for various NGOs in the rebuilding of the coastal settlements wiped out by the tsunami.

Most of the fishermen have begun their daily routines with whatever fishing gear they have and were donated by NGOs.

Except for a few isolated makeshift tsunami relief camps and tents, housing schemes are coming up for the tsunami displaced.

Abundant generosity on the part of the International Community and the Sri Lankan expatriate community has helped in constructing housing schemes and in some places entire villages to shelter thousands of fisher folk who lost their livelihood and their loved ones among the ferocious tsunami waves.

Hela Sarana is one of the housing projects that came up in Peraliya, now famous for the world's worst railway catastrophe in which more than thousands perished and washed away by the tsunami.

The wreckage of the compartments of the ill-fated train remains beside the newly constructed Colombo-Matara tracks.

A host of foreign NGOs are active in the area, mainly in the reconstruction of destroyed settlements and restoring basic sanitary facilities such as digging up wells and constructing toilets.

The Hela Sarana housing project, which was founded by Sri Lankan Buddhist Society of Calgary in Canada, is a unique housing scheme where the housing unites are planned and designs to the requirements of the prospective owners.

Under the project, a family or an individual is provided with Rs.225,000 worth material to design and construct a house to suit them.

So far 25 houses had already been handed over to owners and construction of 53 houses had also been completed and only nine houses remain to be completed. The 4th Engineering Brigade of the Sri Lankan Army had contributed the project in terms of labour.

The Malgampura Housing Scheme with 106 housing units is a role model. The community is located about two kilometres off the sea. The villagers, all of them are fisherfolk, are gradually adopting to the new environment to commence their trade.

A large number of volunteers and voluntary organisations such as Hilfwerk from Sweden are busy at work in various sites and individuals from different parts of the globe had constructed houses and single housing units for the tsunami affected people perhaps due to the global media coverage given to the catastrophe.

Along the coastal belt from Galle to Matara, settlements sprawl in double quick time occupying the shattered landscape. With the reduction of the buffer zone by the Government, beachfront restaurants are being reconstructed and tourist arrivals in areas like Unawatuna and Mirissa is returning to normal.

The fisheries sector is also taking off with multi-day boats starting to fishing in the deep sea. Most of the fishermen who lost their boats had complained that Grama Sevakas, the grassroots level administrative officers, had favoured with and donated boats to persons who had never been fishermen. Bureaucratic delays are rampant, especially in the case of allocation of State lands.

Fisherfolk complain of the lack of fishing gear and boats and the deepening of breakwater of fisheries harbours.

Most of the physical infrastructure of the fisheries harbours had been destroyed by the tsunami and especially the temporary breakwaters made of granite would not be strong enough to avert giant tide.

Fishermen are complaining that they have to store ice at their homes and sometimes bring from outstations to keep the fish harvest freshly unloaded from multi-day boats which normally bring ashore a large stocks of fish.

The ice-manufacturing plants at the most of the harbours had been partially or completely damaged by the tsunami.

However it is obvious from interviews and the observations that ninety per cent of the fisherfolk had, in fact, received tsunami relief and some of the fishermen who worked at boats before tsunami have been lucky enough to get boats and become boatowners.

The fishermen, who have been located in the interior, are now gradually adopting to a different environment while resuming their trade.

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