ActionAid made no effort to officially verify perceptions of the distribution of reconstruction funds it confidently declares as facts.
The Government’s Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), in a statement dismissed the claims made by ActionAid, a British Charity headquartered in South Africa in its report titled “Tsunami Response: A Human Rights Assessment” as being biased and lacking depth & credibility.
The report contains inaccuracies and misinterpretations, and carries several unsubstantiated allegations.
An example of its superficiality is the broad statement that ‘A fact-finding mission found that conflict-affected eastern districts received the least attention from the Governments’
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRC) actually conducted the said fact-finding mission early last year, and published its report in April 2005. This report did document allegations made by various parties, but it is not accurate to quote these as the findings of the HRC mission. RADA points out that the ground situation that prevailed at the time of the original HRC reports was just three months after the Tsunami, and there is no evidence of any post-report consultative process undertaken by ActionAid to build on the initial findings.
The ActionAid report goes on to say that “complaints of discrimination from survivors are widespread” although it has failed to identify any specific form of discrimination that has taken place. The HRC report, which appears to be the source of a substantial amount of information reproduced by ActionAid, has indeed mentioned that discrimination is apparent between Tsunami-affected population and war-affected communities since Tsunami affected displaced persons received a more rapid response, but in no way does it indicate that the Government of Sri Lanka discriminated people based on their ethnicity.
The HRC mission, was not on issues pertaining to Tsunami and their observations were on the general perceptions among the members of the public that the eastern province receives far fewer resources and facilities than other provinces and that this sense of discrimination has not been assuaged by the Tsunami.
Therefore, ActionAid has quoted the HRC report out of context thereby creating a false impression that the Government of Sri Lanka has discriminated Tsunami affected minorities in the east.
ActionAid made no effort to officially verify perceptions of the distribution of reconstruction funds it confidently declares as facts. RADA therefore provides the following information;
As of February 06, 2006 US$ 307 million has been disbursed from primary donors for projects in the North & East, whilst only US $ 131 million has been disbursed to the south.
Out of the three districts in the east, Trincomalee received the lowest allocation of funds, which amounts to US $ 72 million However, this is still US $ 17 million higher than the amount allocated to Hambantota district, which received the highest amount of fund disbursement out of all Tsunami affected districts in the south.
This information may be accessed by the public through the RADA Development Assistance Database at (www.dad.tafren.gov.lk)
Immediately after the Tsunami, country’s armed forces were deployed to maintain law and order and to protect people and property. There were also many incidents of military personnel engaged in dramatic rescue operations regardless of ethnic or religious differences. However, ActionAid’s reference to armed forces being deployed in the Tsunami affected areas is taken out of context and gives a biased view.
ActionAid report has also alleged that Buffer Zones’ have been used to remove people from the coastal areas under the guise of safety. This is a grossly inaccurate statement, and demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the issues addressed. Many of the lives lost along the coast were from the population living in informal accommodation in reservations and restricted areas. The Government imposed emergency buffer zones in the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami to prevent further loss of life in the event of a repeat wave. Subsequent study has resulted in the relaxing of the arbitrary distances and merging them with the set-backs from the Coast Conservation Department coastal zone management plan of 1997. The Government does not feel that inadequate reinforcement of previously existing construction restrictions needs to be repeated.
One of the glaring shortcomings found in the ActionAid report was the non disclosure of the sample of people interviewed to ascertain their findings. Therefore, RADA officials feel that the sample selected is not representative of the population that was affected by the Tsunami in the North & East.
The under-researched ActionAid report has been unduly critical of Sri Lanka’s Government. At a time when peace and communal issues are top on President Mahinda Rajakapksa’s priority list, it is non-constructive, and unnecessarily inflammatory.