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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, January 02, 2006

Mix of relief and anguish in tsunami hit South

Sunday Observer: 25/12/2005" by Ranga Jayasuriya

It has been a rebuilding effort unprecedented in the recent history.

No time in recent memory has this country been tasked with building 98,000 houses within the shortest possible time. And before any reconstruction began there was the mammoth task of cleaning up the wreckage of tsunami devastation.

Many a thing has been done. And many more has to be done before the nation achieves the full recovery from the Boxing day catastrophe.

As a year elapses since Indian ocean tsunami devastated the Southern and North-Eastern coastal belt of the island, Sunday Observer highlights a few success stories of tsunami reconstruction as well as some loopholes in the rebuilding effort.

Theldeniya next to Peraliya on the southern coastal highway was one village obliterated by the ocean waves. The entire village was washed away and families were left homeless and out of a total of 260 families in the village, 65 people died.

A. Piyatunga and Renuka Priyani were on their way to Unawatuna with their three children when the tsunami struck in the morning.

The rented vehicle the family was travelling in was caught up in the waves, but escaped. But, Renuka's father who decided to stay at home was swallowed up by the ocean waves and not even his remains was found.

When the family came back, they could only find the concrete rubble of their house. Having lost their lifetime earnings to ocean waves, the family moved to a relative's place where they spent the next whole year.

"We could not live in those huts. We could not simply beat it. We stayed at a relation's house in Ambalangoda," says Renuka.

They moved to a new house on Friday along with some 70 other families who were provided with new houses, each valued at 800,000 through a tsunami housing reconstruction program of Ceylon Tobacco.

"At last, this is a kind of relief, we had a tough time the whole of last year," says Renuka.

The donor company has also provided them with electricity and water tanks.

The recipients had been selected by the Divisional Secretary from those who lived within the 100 metre buffer zone.

But, most recipients want a bit of furniture to furnish their houses and though various individuals and NGOs have pledged furniture, people here are yet to receive them.

And cooking utensils are urgent for most families as the first year alms giving ceremony of perished family members falls on December 26.

" We are relieved,... at last we got a house," says Piyatunga.

Though most people who lived in transit houses are now on the move to permanent places, some are not so lucky. And their bitterness at the selection process is evident in every word they spoke.

M. M. Fazin (29) escaped the wall of ocean waves, climbing a lamp post. Fazin was selling fish at his seaside hut when the tsunami struck. All his belongings were washed away including his house. Still, Fazin, married with a child, languishes in a tent house in Katugoda, Devata.

"Some people have received two, three boats, but we haven't got anything. Even some coconut pluckers got boats." says Fazin.

"If you can, please tell the government to give us a house somewhere near the sea," he pleads . Some families of Fazin's community have received new houses in Walahanduwa, some 7 km from Katugoda, but most have refused to go and decided to live in tent houses with the rest of the community.

A. H. M. Razik (32) from Katugoda charges local grama sevakas of favouritism and nepotism. "Grama sevakas are giving their people everything, even people who were not affected and lived 500 meters from the sea have got relief assistance... One man got three boats. And we, the real fishermen are left aside. Not even a fishing net has been given to us," says Razik.

Last week two such recipients, who got boats through the back door, sold boats, each at 100,000 rupees.

Razik says one foreign lady has promised to build his partly demolished house. He has received only the first instalment amounting 70,000 rupees out of the full compensation of 250,000 rupees. "When I went to the bank, they said that the program was suspended and it would take some time to resume," he said.

"I gave up idea and now I am trying to build the house on my own," he says.

There are 25 families still languishing in the tent houses over looking the sea in Katugoda. Sixteen families had been given houses in Walahanduwa.

Nine were not. But, even those who received houses refuse to move.

A villager says it is because these families do not want to lose food relief.

"Even now a lot of people come with relief assistance. Food, clothes etc. They don't want to lose them," he says.

British National, David Gittings opened his brand new hotel, White House in Kabalana, Ahangama on December 21 last year. But, five days later, sea waves wrecked havoc and the hotel was washed away.

"It is easy to lose some thing you never possessed, but it is very hard to lose a thing on which you have invested your whole life,"says Gittings. He borrowed heavily to refurbish his tsunami damaged hotel.

White House was reopened in October this year. But he is now a worried man. Reason: for the past two weeks he hasn't had a single guest.

"Where are all those tourists visiting Sri Lanka heading especially when the government says there is a 60 percent increase in tourist arrival", he asks.

Most hotels down south, in Koggala, Ahangama and Weligama are empty.

He says it is small hoteliers who provide a better playing level and that they should be supported.

"Foreigners come here all the way from Europe to experience Sri Lanka... to feel the colour and vibrancy of this country. It is small hotels and guest houses which give them that experience," says Gittings. "'Five stars give all inclusive packages. Tourists don't go out".

He says the Tourist Board and the government should help building an image for Down South as a tourist destination. "It is easy to call this a beautiful place. But this to be really beautiful, these beaches should be cleaned up," he says.

"What kind of impression do you have when you see concrete rubble on the beach."

"Of course, we (the country) have done a lot and a lot of things has to be done before we say we have won over nature's destruction," says Gittings.

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