Sri Lankan tsunami victims speak out

2008-01-06

Richard Moore

Original source URL:
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/jan2008/tsun-j02.shtml

Sri Lankan tsunami victims speak out
By our correspondents
2 January 2008

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World Socialist Web Site reporters in Sri Lanka spoke with survivors of the 2004
tsunami in Peraliya, in southern Sri Lanka¹s Galle district, and Moratuwa, in 
the Colombo suburbs, just before the third anniversary of the catastrophe.

Peraliya, a coastal village in the Galle district and 95 kilometres from 
Colombo, was one of the areas most affected by the tsunami. According to 
official reports, 1,559 people were killed and 226 lost, presumed dead, in the 
district with 12,645 houses totally or partially damaged. In the Colombo 
district, 56 were killed, with two missing and 6,998 houses totally or partially
damaged.

The worst hit area was in Sri Lanka¹s eastern province, where 60,280 families 
were displaced. Those in the east who lost their homes, crops and livelihoods 
three years ago have been further affected by the Rajapakse government¹s renewal
of the civil war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
WSWS journalists, however, were unable to visit the eastern province and report 
first-hand on the situation facing tsunami survivors because of the ongoing 
military conflict.

Peraliya was the scene of one of the most tragic episodes on the morning of 
December 26, 2004 after the tsunami hit the Colombo to Matara train just as it 
was passing through the village. More than 1,500 men, women and children were 
killed. Local people were preparing to commemorate the deaths of their loved 
ones when WSWS correspondents arrived.

Jayanthi, 37, a housewife, recalled the disaster: ³When the tsunami hit I was 
alone at home with my child‹my husband had gone fishing‹and I was cooking. 
Suddenly I heard one of our neighbours shouting that the sea was over-flowing. I
grabbed my child and ran to high land but kept thinking about my husband out at 
sea. Thank god he returned unharmed.

³After a few hours we came back to see our home. It was partly damaged and so we
were taken to a temple called Ethkandura. But after a few days we decided to 
return to our damaged home because living conditions in the [refugee] camp were 
terrible.

³Months passed and we lived in constant fear that the damaged walls or the shaky
roof [of the house] would fall on us. During that terrible time we were 
dependant on assistance from donors and various non-governmental organisations.

³We had to see so many officials to get approval for government compensation, 
but were only given 100,000 rupees ($US1,000), which was not enough to repair 
our losses.

³Three years have now passed, but we have still not been able to restore the 
life we had. The situation we now face is terrible because of unbearable 
increases in the cost of living. Some months are very hard. We cannot afford to 
buy milk powder for my infant and the other kids. They ask for milk but I can 
only give them plain tea. We all are getting weaker from malnutrition and I¹m 
unable to do the sort of heavy work I did two or three years ago.

Kumudini said that the houses built for tsunami survivors were unsuitable. ³The 
houses get wet whenever it rains because there wasn¹t a sufficient slope made in
their roofs,² she said. ³The walls are cracked, the toilet overflows and the 
doors were damaged within months so we are not secure.

³When these houses were being built we asked for the foundations to be higher 
than the land level but the builders didn¹t listen. They erected the foundations
in one day, because they were in a hurry to get their money and there were no 
proper construction standards.

³My husband has been infected with a virus and admitted to Karapitiya hospital 
[in Galle]. Two of our children had to be hospitalised before him. This is 
because our housing is unhealthy and unsuitable for living.²

Sarath, a fisherman, pointed to an abandoned boat and said: ³These engineless 
boats are what government minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle gave us. We lost all of
our fishing gear, including the boats and nets, in the tsunami. How are we 
supposed to do our job if they don¹t give us engines and other equipment? How 
can you take these boats out to sea? Everyone knows that this is a fraud.²

A group of housewives gathered around WSWS reporters angrily complaining about 
the Rajapakse government. One of them said: ³The president and his ministers 
tell us to devote ourselves to the war. They say we have to tighten our belts, 
but they all have loose belts with big stomachs.

³The most absurd thing, however, is that the Buddhist monks tell us to starve 
for the war. Ellawala Medhananda Thera [a leading monk from the Jatika Hela 
Urumaya, the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist party in alliance with the Rajapakse 
government] tells us: ŒThe price of a coconut will increase to Rs.100 but you 
have to tolerate it for the sake of the war¹. These monks have good meals and 
yet they tell us we have to starve for the war. This is not our war. We are in a
huge battle just to survive.²

In Moratuwa, Colombo, 230 people from 56 tsunami-affected families are still 
living in an abandoned two-story building near Golu Madama junction. Previously 
used as a police station, the accommodation is woefully inadequate, with each 
family, irrespective of the numbers involved, forced to share a 15 by 10 foot 
room, partitioned by plywood. There are only three usable toilets and two 
bath/showers in the whole building and the roof is badly damaged and could 
collapse on the occupants at any time.

Sugathadasa, 51, pointed to the building and said: ³Since February 18, 2005 
we¹ve been living here in constant danger that this roof could fall at anytime. 
I can¹t sleep at night because it gives me nightmares, but we cannot move out of
this death trap because we are the poorest of the poor.

³The government asks us to find land to build a house but the maximum that 
they¹ll give us is just Rs 250,000, which means we would have to move to a rural
area and abandon our jobs as day workers. And even if we move to the country, it
is hard to find work. Only three or five families have used government 
assistance to buy land in the rural areas and yet they still live here because 
without a shelter they can¹t settle there.²

He angrily denounced Sri Lankan President Rajapakse¹s broken promises to the 
tsunami victims. ³During the election campaign Rajapakse boasted that he would 
solve the tsunami housing problem within six months. If he was genuine he would 
do as he says, but they are all liars. I have given up all hopes of a house,² he
said.

³Over the past three years Minister Jeevan Kumaratunge, who represents our 
electorate, has never visited us or seen the terrible situation we face. He will
come, of course, to beg for our votes in the next election. He claims that 
Colombo people were not affected by the tsunami, but who are we?

³No other party leader or parliamentarian has visited us either. They all 
support this bloody war. They spend billions and billions for the war but 
provide nothing to solve our problems.

³I oppose this war. It has not only affected Tamils but us as well. I think 
Colvin R. de Silva was correct when he said that one language means two 
countries and two languages one country. All the rulers in Colombo, and 
especially the Sinhalese leaders, have plunged this country into war.

³We want a decent life just like other human beings. We would like to see a few 
green trees, to breathe fresh air and to have nutritional meals like other 
people. Why don¹t they treat us as humans?² he asked.

Padmini, 45, a housewife said: ³The government authorities tell us to find land 
but why don¹t they find it for us? If they want land for a luxury housing scheme
they can find it within a week.

³We¹re not asking for houses in Colombo 07 [the most affluent area in Colombo] 
but the government has the power to acquire land in a Colombo suburb to build a 
housing project for all of us. But they won¹t do that because we¹re poor.

³You should also know about another injustice some of our colleagues face. There
are five families here who do not qualify for land or a house because they were 
tenants when the tsunami struck. What will happen to them? Where will they go? 
On the street? We say that they also must have the right to a new house.²
-- 

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