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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

Woes and worries of Tsunami victims

Sunder Observer: 25/12/2005" by W. T. J. S. Kaviratne - Ambalangoda Special Correspondent

Since the fateful morning of 26th December, 2004, up-to-date the marginalized communities of Sri Lanka who lived along the coastline have been undergoing multitude of complex problems affecting every aspect of their day to day lives.

These most vulnerable segments of society worst hit by the natural disaster of tsunami could be found still living in transitional houses made out of planks, cadjan or tin sheets. These temporary sheds had replaced the multi-coloured tents and once again the landscape of the devastated areas of the country has been given the ugly appearance of shanty towns.

The constraints related to the construction of the permanent houses even one year after tsunami are almost the same. The grievances of the affected communities who live in the ethnic divides, Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims have also multiplied.


On my fact-finding visits to tsunami devastated districts of all the provinces in the South, West, North and East of Sri Lanka made on several occasions, I could gather vital and authentic information on the lifestyles of the tsunami displaced, unaddressed issues and their genuine grievances.

All the problems faced by the tsunami displaced specially of those who lived within 100 metre coastal buffer zone could be mainly attributed to the unreasonable delay in the construction of the permanent houses.

Unsettled situation and the prevailing tension in the North and the East have further aggravated the burning issues of the internally displaced persons in the North and the East both by two decades of protracted ethnic war and recent natural disaster of tsunami.

As usual it is always the deprived sections of the society who become the victims of all types of disasters and it has become a truism even in Sri Lanka. Since the morning the giant ocean waves engulfed the coastal belt of the country, both the young and the old displaced have been undergoing different phases of suffering.

Tsunami as well as a war victim, K. Chandra (36) said that she was born at Maha Illuppallama Government Farm in Anuradhapura and after her marriage to a man in Kinniya in Trincomalee district, had to live in a refugee camp for several years due to the escalation of the North-East War.

On one night in 1990 when they were having dinner in the camp her husband was abducted by an unidentified armed gang wearing Army uniforms and when she raised cries they threatened to kill her and her two children.

Since the abduction of her husband she had visited several Army camps for a number of years but failed to trace any information of her husband. As the sole breadwinner of the family with her husband missing she had to lead a very miserable life since 1990.

On the day tsunami hit Kinniya, her house situated near the Kinniya Hospital, ended in rubble and she ran away with her two children along with other villagers to a safer area and now she lives in a transitional house built by Sevalanka, she said.


Her only dream is to get a permanent house and lead a life devoid of fear. Chandra was one of the many victims affected by both the two decades of war and the tsunami.

These victims reached Alenkerny Maha Vidyalaya in Kinniya a few weeks back to pour out their grievances to a gathering of mediapersons of the Southern Province United Media Association. This Bridge Building Media Programme promoting inter-ethnic harmony, peace and reconciliation was organized by the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.

Annal Nagar is a most devastated area in Kinniya and Kujja Umma (45) living in a temporary house at Annal Nagar said that her husband had deserted her and she found it extremely difficult to survive specially after the tsunami. The Grama Niladari (GS) had not recommended her under tsunami relief programmes, for some unknown reasons, she said.

In the transit village of Alankerny in Kinniya there is a camp known by Kadaloor Camp having temporary cadjan sheds provided by TRO and funded by Norway. All the Tamil families in this camp prior to tsunami had been internally displaced on several occasions since 1972 due to the ethnic conflict.

After living in different places in this marginalized Tamil community who work as sanitary labourers and fishermen, for their livelihood have been displaced once again due to the tsunami. At present there are 87 families comprising 40 children, 136 women and 148 men in the highly congested, temporary sheds exposed to the elements. NGOs had given numerous pledges to these displaced people but up to date nothing had been done for them, they complained.

Naga Analingam (50) said that he had lived near Kinniya hospital and worked as a sanitary worker and when the conflict that cropped up between the Muslims and Tamils in 1987, forced the Tamil families to leave the village for a refugee camp and from 1987 to 1990 they had to live in refugee camps.


After the Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2002 they started cultivations and lived in temporary huts but tsunami devastated their lands and displaced them once again, he said. The families suffering in temporary houses were highly frustrated and the younger generation since their birth had lived like prisoners in various refugee camps. No relief measures reach the invisible communities living in remote areas of Kinniya.

In Annal Nagar tsunami displaced 8,365 families, killing 451 while destroying 2,993 houses, 13 mosques and a number of schools.

Fishing was the major livelihood of the people and the distribution of fishing crafts and fishing gear and the disbursement of relief funds were not done in a transparent manner according to the affected people living in temporary sheds.

A fish vendor known as Usup Ashroff Ali (36) died on tsunami day leaving his wife and seven children. The eldest is 17 and studies in Grade 8 and the youngest is only 1 1/2 years old. Families lived in rented out houses prior to tsunami were not entitled for permanent houses, some of the displaced families complained.

The grievances of the tsunami displaced marginalized families now living in temporary plank houses known as Transitional Houses in the Southern Province of the country are quite the same. On visits to Transitional Housing Schemes at Waturegama, Balapitiya, Pathirajagama, Kosgoda, and the welfare camp located in the premises of Dissanayake Ayurveda Medical Hostel, at Lowigahawatta in Galle and several other wooden houses erected in and around Telwatta Godagama, Matara and Hambantota the victims said that their immediate requirement was a permanent house.

Even before tsunami the fishing community of Modarawatta and Brahmanawatta of Balapitiya lived in temporary cadjan sheds erected within 100 metres from the beach stretch. The 20 displaced fisher families since tsunami lived in several welfare centres in schools and temples and later during the second phase provided tents as emergency shelters, where they suffered a lot during the heavy rains.


Now during the transitional phase these families were provided transitional Houses made out of planks and aluminium sheets. The space and the structure of the transitional housing units vary from area to area.

The displaced people were not satisfied with the transitional houses for multitude of reasons. The inferior wooden planks used by the contractors had already started rotting and shrunk exposing the interior of the houses.

Majority of the displaced women complained that these sheds were highly congested and the space was hardly sufficient at all for their families and privacy could not be maintained due to the faulty planning of construction in long parallel rows. Majority of the transitional housing schemes are in marshes, muddy playgrounds and abandoned low lying areas of the country.

The sanitary facilities provided for these dwellings were scanty and the makeshift toilets have been damaged, long exposed to heavy showers and strong winds.

During rainy days whole area becomes a pool of mud and the small children could be seen suffering from skin ailments. Some women complained on several nights, unknown males were in the habit of knocking on their doors which has wide crevices in between the shrunk planks of the walls. The life in these plank houses were not safe at nights, said the women living at Waturegama transitional housing scheme, in the Balapitiya Divisional Secretariat area, in the Galle district.

Students living in this transitional houses, Nadeeka Madushani (15), Grade 10, Asha Maduwanthi (13), Grade 08, and Shamika Madushani (14) Grade 09 said that they found it difficult to do their studies in the noisy surroundings. Shamika Madushani said the space inside plank houses were not enough. All the inmates said that they were waiting for permanent houses.

The tsunami victims living in transitional houses erected along the School Lane of Kosgoda said after living several months in tents at the welfare centre of Nayaka Temple, Wellabada, Balapitiya, since April, 2005 and even upto now they were forced to live in the temporary houses. They also feel that they are a neglected community by the authority. The plank houses had become the breeding grounds of termites and various species of insects. All these families belong to low income groups and earned their day-to-day living on menial jobs.

The tsunami victims living in the Transitional Housing Scheme at Pathirajagama, off Ahungalla in the Balapitiya Divisional Secretary Area have many complaints against the Divisional Secretary and the Grama Niladari of the area. Leelawathie Kanakaratne said that six members of her family had occupied the tinned huts of the transitional housing scheme. No electricity was provided and they were forced to use kerosene bottle lamps and lanterns.

Non-availability of electricity had created many problems in the camp premises during nights, she said. Seven newly born infants were found in this Transitional Housing Scheme but midwives nor any other health officials attached to the Health Department had paid their routing official visits to this place according to the inmates. Certain foreigners were interested in buying a plot of land and constructing permanent houses for them.

But they said the Balapitiya Divisional Secretary had not given his approval, Leelawathie Kanakaratne further said. The water purifying machine worth millions of rupees fixed in the centre was abandoned due to the non-availability of a small spare part they revealed.

Similar valuable Water Purifying Machine donated for the benefit of the tsunami displaced living in temporary plank houses at School Lane of Kosgoda was lying behind the houses. The Divisional Secretary of Balapitiya was totally unaware of these machines and showed no interest in inquiring about the abandoned machines found in his administrative area.

The Transitional Housing Scheme located in close proximity to Balapitiya Training College and in front of the public cemetery, 75 families live in a highly congested surroundings and these families were beset with many complex issues.

Nearly 1500 population including women and children in this transitional housing scheme, out of 14 makeshift toilets only 07 could be used. During heavy rains the area gets inundated and creates many environmental problems, due to the fact that the temporary plank houses are built on a marshy land.

Some houses could collapse at any moment said an emotionally disturbed woman known as K. Daisy (54) referring to numerous instances of malpractices, corruption and injustice by the officials. All these victims had owned big houses but no action was taken to help them in obtaining the valuable items lost by tsunami, she said. They said they were not satisfied with a land of only 6 perches in extent.

Nilekthi Ishara Sanjeeva (17) a pupil of year 10 of Balapitiya Junior School living in this housing scheme said that the electricity supply of the housing scheme failed several times a day and disturbed their studies at night.

According to him the toilets were very unhygienic and some were overflowing and on rainy days the whole area was stinking affecting the people living in the houses. Recently a huge coconut tree had fallen on top of the plank houses and luckily nobody was injured, he said, showing the fallen coconut tree which had damaged several houses. All these victims appeared to be traumatic as their grievances were not addressed properly.

Another marginalized community still living in temporary sheds at Wellawatta, a suburb of Hikkaduwa has become an invisible segment of tsunami victims silently suffering without capturing the attention of the authorities. They are sanitary workers attached to Hikkaduwa Urban Council.

This highly vulnerable community was hit by tsunami while some of the small children were out of their houses. All the houses were washed away completely leaving only the foundation as this village was located in close proximity to Hikkaduwa Fishery Harbour. Out of 21 casualties, 14 children died below the age group of 13 years and one couple lost their twin sons and the mother of the twins was injured severely and she had undergone several operations and became immobile.

No remedial actions were taken by the relevant authorities to resolve the burning day to day problems of these marginalized tsunami victims found scattered throughout the affected areas of Sri Lanka.

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