Six Months after

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Kavan Ratnatunga visits Arugam Bay six months after the tsunami to discover that business is picking up
Slow relief but surfers are back
A ghost town after the tsunami six months ago, Arugam Bay was very much alive at 10 p.m. when we drove in on our way to a guest house at Kudakalli, two km further south. Many tourists had returned to this surfing paradise and were on the streets walking from their hotels to cybercafes and the many bars and restaurants which had reopened.

A street performance was entertaining a large audience near a newly constructed Buddhist shrine in the town centre. The Pottuvil to Arugam Bay bridge, part of which had been washed away in the tsunami had been reconstructed with the aid of the Engineering Regiments of the Indian Army Task Force. An Indian flag was hung on the side in gratitude. I wonder how long this temporary repair which allows a single vehicle to be on the bridge at one time, will need to serve the community.

The Tsunami Beach Hotel sign had been revised and put back up. The owners cashing in on all the media publicity after the tsunami had even registered in March 2005 an internet domain

Arriving at Daya Fernando’s guest house we surprised the caretakers since they had not got the message about our arrival. Since I had not slept overnight near the east coast for almost 30 years, I got up an hour before sunrise and walked out with Daya’s three dogs to protect me and show me the way.

The surf was up but fairly calm. Starlight and a crescent moon illuminated the many shells that had washed ashore on to the beach. A couple was beachcombing a rich bounty. I too picked up some beautiful large shells and coral.

Our next visit was to Panama, a small Sinhala community 10 km south of Arugam bay. We went to the residence of Chandrasena who was the secretary to the local Pradeshiya Sabha (community council). It was he who had compiled the list of 17 houses which had been badly damaged in Panama by the tsunami and had sent out the appeal with photographs for funding. All off them had already been rebuilt by Thawalama using funding from Sri Lanka Tsunami Appeal Committee of Western Australia. I also witnessed the handing over of ten carts with pneumatic tyres to cultivators affected by the tsunami from this same committee.

The cultivators of Panama also lost over 350 acres of paddy land, when areas such as Halawa, close to the sea were flooded by tsunami water. These paddy fields will remain barren for many years till the salt washes away. Though they have been promised alternate land under the Meeyangoda tank, which is to be restored with funding from the Rotary Club of Kandy, the cultivators now fear that this too is another promise that will never materialize. Most NGOs who have visited the village of Panama have requested the villagers to fill application forms, but have failed to provide the promised assistance.
Nearly all of the help to reconstruct and revitalise the community has come from private organizations which have raised the required funds in Lanka and abroad.

The government represented by the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN) has still not made any positive impact on reconstruction in the community. All that the residents have seen are the numerous reports and advertisements in the media of what is being planned, Those affected were wondering where all the claimed foreign aid had got tied up.

Just south of Arugam Bay, the village of Ulla, within the 200-metre buffer zone was totally destroyed by the tsunami. TAFREN has thus far failed to provide the affected families with alternate property outside the buffer zone, for them to commence rebuilding their houses.

The NGOs who want to help these unfortunate people to rebuild their houses are being discouraged as a result. TAFREN unlike most NGOs allocates the task, signs a MoU and waits. For example the Sinhapura Sinhala Vidyalaya in Ulla near Arugam Bay was totally destroyed by the tsunami, even though it is beyond the 200 metre buffer zone. The Italian Civil Protection Mission has signed a MoU to complete construction work in six months. It is now six months since the tsunami and they have yet to commence work on reconstruction.

The Thawalama Development Foundation that wrote to the President in this connection, requesting her to reallocate this school to them, as they are in a position to find the necessary funds for the purpose, have been informed by TAFREN that this is not possible.

Unlike state aid, private aid has in many cases been made on racial and religious divisions. A Tamil resident from Jaffna I spoke to said that although many who didn’t have any fishing boats have received one, he who had lost seven boats in the tsunami has still to get any replacement.


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