Tsunami + 8 months

Tsunami + 8 months

Our man in NTU, Raymond, went over to Sri Lanka to check on the progress of post-Tsunami rebuilding efforts. HereA?a??a??s his story, along with some pictures he took A?a??A? – julian

ItA?a??a??s been eight months since the 26th December tsunami disaster and stories from the affected areas have slowed to a trickle. However, when the stories of destruction and suffering stop, does it mean that the worst is over and that life in the affected areas are back to normal?

I was in Sri Lanka from June 28 to July 3 for the first of two school-sponsored study trips to the socialist republic. The goal of the trips is to produce stories on the post-tsunami reconstruction process for various media.

The following is a personal account of what I saw from day four to seven when we were at the east coast of Sri Lanka, which together with the northeast coast, was worst hit by the disaster.

July 1, 2005, Friday
11am, Kattankudy, Batticaloa

We picked up our four interpreters in the morning as the people from where we were heading spoke mainly Tamil. The first affected area we visited was the beach of Kattankudy in Batticaloa. Despite it was more than six months after the disaster, the sight of the destruction still awed me nonetheless. It was a hot day, probably about 38 degrees Celsius, with nary a cloud in the sky. This weather is typical in the East for this time of the year when the dry season starts to set in. The ocean was a lovely light blue, its beauty was an odd backdrop for the expanse of rubble around us A?a??a?? scarred earth, broken roads, flattened buildings. It was hard to imagine the beachfront lined with fishermenA?a??a??s huts, which we were told was the way things were. Now there is just the vastness of sand.

2pm, Navalady, Batticaloa

There was a large crowd gathered here, as though a meeting would be taking place. However, it was a communal lunch where food was being given out to people who had been working to clear the debris in the area under one of those NGO (Non-Government Organization) cash-for-work programmes. The people were paid 300 to 400 Sri Lankan rupees (something like eight Singapore dollars) a day. Going by the standard of living in Colombo where it is only slightly cheaper than Singapore, thatA?a??a??s not a lot to get by.

Lunch was being given as a treat today as it was the last day of the debris-clearing work. Which begs the question: WhereA?a??a??s the money going to come from now?

Half a year later, still, tragedies of losing close family continue. Displays of the bodily scars that remind of the injuries sustained continue. Questions of what the future would bring continue. And here, I heard my first complaint about how the NGOs were misguided in their work, unable to find out who the needy were and unable to distribute aid fairly.

I spoke with a man, Sinacheh Antony, who lost a wife and two children to the waves. He said: A?a??A?Such a disaster should not come again, not only to this country but to the whole world.A?a??A?

When I ran into him again later, we were invited to sit with his family and he treated my friends and I to freshly plucked coconuts. It was great hospitality A?a??a?? they were generous despite their plight. I also got to see his two children who survived A?a??a?? two young daughters, Merina and Medona.

July 2, 2005, Saturday

We reached Arugam Bay late morning. The bay was one of the top ten surfing destinations of the world and a popular tourist destination on the East coast. The first thought that struck me about the place – shirtless Caucasians with surfboards milling about. In the distance, people were frolicking in the waters. The whole place had a holiday feel to it, that is, if you could forget the ubiquitous skeletons of buildings and rubble piles characteristic of the East coast. The good thing though, was that tourists were back. There was even a surfing competition here a few days back, organised by the British Surfing Association.

I visited a German guy, Fred, at his hotel, the Siam View Hotel. Fred had been in Sri Lanka for close to 30 years, and he was angry at the NGOs, calling them a waste of money. Coming from a man who once hosted an NGO it was a startling accusation.


According to Fred, the NGOs have not been consulting with the locals on what the latter need. He recounted an incident where a NGO worker, once took a big detour when he saw Fred coming out of his hotel, just to avoid running into Fred. In a place where getting electricity was a problem, Fred said the NGOs were giving out things like fridges and air conditioners, when what were more urgently needed were power generators. Then there were the temporary shelters that did not take into account the hot local climate. Fred said he had taken the temperature inside one of them A?a??a?? it was 126 degrees Fahrenheit. In degree Celsius, thatA?a??a??s 52. Either way, it reads: Very hot! Fred pointed us to a shelter that had a zinc roof A?a??a?? I gathered it was the metal roof that caused the inside of the shelter to heat up so much.

We saw several types of shelters, each with a different combination of materials like wood, zinc, thatched leaves and clay. All had something in common: They were small A?a??a?? one-room structures that were little more than 4m by 3m in size. ItA?a??a??s a squeeze for any family.

Later, we had our lunch at a restaurant called The Fishing Net. When we were done, we gathered around the restaurant owner, Ajith, as he recounted his experiences to us. Midway through, tears came to his eyes, and he told us that we were the first group to talk with him about what he has been through. There are probably many like him who, besides food and shelter, needs also a listening ear. ItA?a??a??s tough: You canA?a??a??t drop a listening ear in the donation box at McDonaldA?a??a??s, or pack it in a relief supply container to be airlifted there. Perhaps that was one reason why all the people I encountered were so forthcoming with their stories. And why large groups of locals gathered every time we spoke to anyone. Perhaps it was more than the novelty of seeing yellow-skinned oddities. Or perhaps they thought we could help make their lives betterA?a??A?


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