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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, January 03, 2006

A Year On…

LBO: 26/12/2005" by Shafraz Farook

The hidden hand of the December 2004 devastation was touted as the mighty force that could finally settle a 20 year feud simmering between the government and the rebel LTTE in the north and east of the tropical island nation.

Both sides, having lost over 60,000 lives in the two decades of civil unrest, almost dropped their difference when the waves swept away over 35,000 lives in a matter of minutes and showed signs of working together to rebuild the nation under a joint effort.
A year on todate however, the tension between the government and the LTTE is at a three year high, with over 20 people killed over the weekend alone, including a Tamil Parliamentarian being shot and killed at Christmas mass.

A joint mechanism to share aid and push reconstruction got sucked into the annuls of the judicial system.

The new President, the then Prime Minister who presented the defunked Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) to Parliament, is calling for a new deal to share aid, designed with the insights of his Marxist allies.

A resolution to the conflict meanwhile seems nowhere near – a feeling shared by the countless tsunami survivors in the region who are still waiting for state assistance to rebuild their lives and settle their conflict with daily life and the daunting memories of December 26, 2004.

The government’s official estimate for attaining a satisfactory level of rebuilding and resettling the over one million people who were displaced is three years and some US$ 2.2 billion – not factoring in the possibility of war or further escalation in violence.

So Far..

A lot has been done in the year that has been, real progress has been made the government and aid agencies say. Over US$ 3.2 billion has also been pledged – enough to push through the rebuilding effort satisfactorily.

The tsunami might not have washed away the differences between the North and the South, but it certainly did was away a good part of its debt repayment for the year and some more in the coming years.

A lot more however still remains to be done.

For instance, a national disaster warning system is still far from in place. A number of private efforts, including one by Lirne Asia and the Sarvodaya Foundation have been put in place to warn against disasters, but a national version is still in the making.

Then there is the housing issue. Where does that stand? The glossy official reports say the transitional housing is over 90 percent in place. The permanent housing - a fraction already up and the rest of the 98,525 that were destroyed on the way.

Far from it, some coastal residents in a recent interview said. Those who could afford it have rebuild their lives where it ones was, before December 26, 2004. The government however still touts the line that some 100,000 homes have to be rebuilt.

Experts from a number of nongovernmental agencies have cautioned that higher than expected inflation and the higher cost of building material today could be far more than that estimated by the aid agencies.

But then if people are rebuilding on their own, wouldn’t that leave at least some money enough to cover the extra costs?

What Else?

Then there is the psychological issues and the side effects of cluster living. Drinking, rape, forced marriages and the inhibiting dependency mentality have all been so far reported.

The fisheries industry meanwhile is still reeling in from the December devastation. Got boats and not nets or vice versa. Or have both and no motor.

According to numbers published by the Fisheries Ministry, we also have a great leap in the number of boats in existence form the numbers reported before the tsunami.

What is more surprising is that at least a good 1000 fishermen could have lost their lives to the killer waves, but there are more people now claiming boats.

A myriad of other issues that still need resolving and will eventually sort if self out – hopefully. Let us also hope for peace, without which there will be no rebuilding.

Take a moment to remember all those who lost their lives in the December 26, 2004 tsunami – here in Sri Lanka and in other countries in the Indian Ocean region and also spare a moment for those who survived but still suffer in the hand of slow working bureaucracy.

Even the official death toll is stuck in the bureaucracy - with each government agency quoting its own numbers. All that is certain is hope.

Shafraz Farook: shafrazf@vanguardlanka.com

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