|Friday, 21 January 2005|
Rebuilding a coastline
by Tharuka Dissanaike
Now that the tsunami after-shocks have died down, it is time to think long-term.
A huge coastal area of the country lie in ruins and shambles. A humongous clean-up operation awaits the green light.
So many people's future lie in the hands of the State, the UN and other donor agencies. It is a responsibility like never before. Not even in our two-decade long war did the country face displacement and destruction of this magnitude. Never did the State have so many people totally dependent upon it for everything.
A million refugees today await government decisions and aid - from the clothes they wear, to their daily rice and dhal, to their homes and their fishing boats, the displaced are dependent upon the State and other agencies for the most urgent needs.
But as usual, the aid-dependency is now becoming epidemic. Many displaced people languish in refugee shelters, just so they can grab what they can from the next lorry load that comes along.
Two weeks after the tsunami it could be well assumed that the majority have gotten over the initial terrible shock. People must begin helping themselves. The government must aid this process as a necessary step towards healing and return to normalcy.
For example, why can't the displaced people- many of them able-bodied men who have been living an out-of-doors life as fishermen- help out in rehabilitating of damaged infrastructure? In Batticaloa, the main roads are in a deplorable state after the tsunami and flash floods, and needs urgent repair.
Easily the displaced people, who have also lost their known livelihood, could now be roped into the labour force to do other jobs- such as road rehabilitation, cleaning up damaged areas or pumping out wells or building temporary toilets for the refugee camps.
This would give them an opportunity to work and earn a respectable wage instead of constantly depending on provided rations, and take their minds off the terrible loss they have all suffered in some form or the other.
Many of the refugee camps - islandwide - had no proper sanitation facilities. There was no privacy for women. Hundreds, at times thousands of people were in school buildings that had one or two bathrooms. With a little guidance temporary toilets could have been built using refugee labour and very little resources.
Toilets should have been done a day or maximum two days after the tsunami struck; after all we are a country quite used to refugee situations. But two weeks after the disaster, this was still a non-addressed issue.
A friend who went down to Matara to help people clean up their flooded homes came back to Colombo a little bitter. "People just don't want to help themselves. They do not even want to clean up their own homes and instead wait for outsiders to come and do every little bit."
In areas of the east coast we had similar experiences where people would stand around at gawk while aid workers, local NGOs and other 'outsiders' did the work without even volunteering to help.
One has to allow for the fact that many of these people have lost everything. Sometimes half their families as well as their homes, boats, shops, hotels, etc. But the time has certainly come to shake the displaced out of this miserable lethargy. Get them involved actively contributing to the rebuilding process.
After all it is their village, their homes, their roads that are now being (or are planned to be) rebuilt by the State or by donors. The people have to be stakeholders in the process.
They should have their say over the reconstruction plans, models as well as being participants of the entire exercise. This will pave the way for better healing - physically and psychologically.
Produced by Lake House