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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. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sri Lanka admits failing tsunami victims

AFP: 26/12/2005"

Sri Lanka admitted it had failed to deliver aid effectively to a million tsunami survivors as it paid emotional tribute to the victims of last year's catastrophe.

President Mahinda Rajapakse on Monday brushed aside security fears to lead the national remembrance effort with a two-minute silence in memory of an estimated 31,000 Sri Lankans who were killed in the unprecedented disaster a year ago.

Police stepped up security while the military placed anti-aircraft guns to protect the president following reports that Tamil Tiger rebels possessed light aircraft which could be flying bombs used for kamikaze-style attacks.

Rajapakse, 60, stood in silence with his head bowed after an inter-faith service at this village where over 1,000 people perished when their train was hit by giant waves.

Police blocked dozens of protestors trying to reach the ceremony venue at the Jinaratana school in Peraliya, 95 kilometres (60 miles) south of Colombo, which was also submerged by last year's tsunami.

Local residents have been staging regular demonstrations here pressing for faster state aid.

The president admitted that tsunami reconstruction had been slow and the country had failed to ensure relief reached all the victims, estimated at a million homeless.

"Have we been able to do maximum justice to those who sacrificed their lives as victims of this tragedy? Have we been able to carry forward the great strength our people demonstrated just after the tragedy?" Rajapakse asked.

"It is my belief that we are unable to answer both these questions to our satisfaction."

He said he was launching a new initiative known to speed up slow-moving reconstruction and pledged that there would be a "new dynamism" in his administration, which came to power just one month ago.

The project aims to gather all tsunami-relief organisations under one umbrella to improve coordination.

Saffron-robed Buddhist monks conducted a brief ceremony to invoke blessings on those killed by the tsunami before Christian, Hindu and Muslim clerics carried out services for the dead.

Candlelight vigils were to be held after sunset along the island's coastlines. The resorts of Hikkaduwa and Bentota lit coconut oil lamps at 9:30am (0330 GMT), the hour when the biggest waves hit this coastline.

The tsunami initially raised hopes of a peace deal with Tigers but Colombo and the guerrillas, who each control part of the devastated coastline, could not even agree on a mechanism to share 3.2 billion dollars in foreign aid.

Fresh violence in the island's northeast left six more people dead Monday and raised to 70 the number killed this month in the conflict despite a truce that is in place since February 2002, police said.

In the eastern coastal town of Arugam Bay, one of the worst affected areas, residents offered free lunch to people still without homes after the worst natural disaster to hit the island.

The government on Saturday admitted that only one fifth of homes damaged -- 20,000 of 98,525 -- have been rebuilt.

"There have been several constraints. The local capacity constraint. The construction industry capacity... and the lack of labour and materials," said Finance Secretary P.B. Jayasundera.

Sri Lanka is still unable to reconcile death tolls from different state agencies. The numbers vary from 17,500 to 41,000 deaths. More than 220,000 people were killed overall.

The country's loss of infrastructure was estimated at 900 million dollars with total reconstruction and rehabilitation needs placed at 2.2 billion dollars.

The government has said it received 3.2 billion dollars in aid pledges from international donors, but a state audit report recently noted that only 13 percent of external help had actually been used by the country.

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