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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, December 27, 2005

Sri Lankan tsunami survivors still dream of a normal life

OneWorld: 21/12/2005"

When the first big wave came in on December 26 last year, H Priyantha thought it was just that — a big wave. Then the sea pulled back. The fisherman from Balapitiya in southern Sri Lanka rushed into the sea to tie his boat — and saw the monster wave coming.

He was lucky to survive. All his possessions were washed away. Priyantha now lives in a temporary camp in Balapitiya along with people from two neighbouring villages. They were relocated here on a school ground five months after the tsunami. “We were told we could stay here for up to one year,” he says. “Seven months are already gone. And we don’t know when we'll get a permanent house.”

Home and livelihood are the major issues for Priyantha. He now does odd jobs around the nearby towns. He is good at working with fibreglass, he says, and can also do little repairs; so he manages to make ends meet.

The money the government promised him and others at the village isn’t coming, they say. “We were promised Rs 5,000 (INR 2,500) a month for six months, but only got four months’ worth of relief.” Priyantha still hasn’t got a boat, though he is eager to go back to sea.

The housing problem seems to worry him and others at the relief camp a lot.

Priyantha and his friend Priyasena de Silva say they want houses within 100 m of the sea. "We don't want houses away from the sea," they say. "We need to stay near the sea to look after our boats and nets." The Sri Lankan government has stipulated a buffer zone of 100 m from the sea where building is now prohibited. This has, however, not prevented new hotels and resorts from coming up within the zone.

"The Gram Sevaka and technical officer were asking for Rs 10,000 to give housing assistance of Rs 50,000," they say. "To get Rs 2,50,000 you've to give Rs 25,000."

The Sri Lankan government had announced a scheme run by the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation (Tefren) that would give cash grants to those whose houses had been destroyed by the waves. The local-level government representatives were made responsible for assessing damage.

The camp inmates, who now live in one-room log cabins and share one toilet for the whole camp, say people with ankle-deep water in their houses had got lakhs in government assistance by bribing local officials. But those like them, with no money for bribes, ended up with nothing.

A recent Oxfam report said only 5,000 of the 78,000 permanent houses required for tsunami rehabilitation had been built.

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