Eastern Burghers carrying heavy burden
AKKARAIPATTU, It's been six months since tsunami struck Sri Lanka on
December 26, 2004. Over 31,000 have died and over a lakh had been driven
into camps, tents and temporary wooden houses around the island.
Margaret Barthlet (left), Joseph Nixon (right)
Survivors are still trying hard to get accustomed to their new
lodgings. The living conditions in many of these temporary huts are
basic. People have started realising that their loss is permanent. And
at the same time, people of different communities have begun to feel the
need for being with their own cultures and surroundings. They yearn to
go back to their 'homes'.
Despite the tragedy, they somehow get about with their daily life
uninterrupted; they send their children to the nearest school; some have
even started income earning activities. Some work as unskilled labourers,
while some others still await employment. For them, life is an uphill
However, they no longer complain about minor issues. Housing is their
main worry. Many survivors say that they have received little or no help
from the authorities to rebuild their houses and businesses.
Housing is the paramount need of the displaced at present. Be it
South, North or the East, all survivors have one dream - a house of
Government authorities and aid agencies have made promises and asked
the survivors to be patient till they finalised matters, so that the
affected communities could be given better facilities and housing which
would help them thrive in the years to come.
A devastated area
In certain areas, land has become a major issue for the delay in
reconstruction work. Lack of sufficient lands is a major issue in the
east too. Many people in the east hesitate to move into other areas,
beyond the buffer zone, saying that their livelihood would be affected
if they moved out to a different area. Many of the affected people were
employed as fishermen, coconut pluckers, carpenters and masons.
There is this tiny Burgher community in Akkaraipattu. They are
reluctant to settle down in a village which is far. "Our soul is here.
Our livelihoods are here. And we can't go to a different area at all,"
says Joseph Nixon, whose house got washed away. "We have just started to
look for income earning activities. Some of our people have started
working as labourers," he adds.
Nixon says that they can build their own home if the Government
allocates a plot of land in the surrounding area and provide them a
"We can find jobs and sustain by ourselves, if we have our own place
to live," he says.
At present, Nixon and 16 other families of his community live in
one-roomed, wooden huts built with the assistance of an NGO and a
philanthropist named, Kumari Thilip in Akkaraipattu.
These tiny houses have electricity. They get water through two large
barrels. Margaret Barthlet, another survivor, said that they have just
started sending their children to school. "Our children and women are
safe in this camp site. However, we have limited space and there's
nothing called 'ours' here. We need to get on with our lives as we did
before," she says.
However, there is no way for us to rebuild our houses at the same
location as it is within the 100-metre zone," she laments.
Many of these families suggested that there is a four-acre land in
the close vicinity, but beyond the buffer zone. "If there is any
organisation or a person, who could purchase the land, block it out, we
can build our own houses," Nixon says.
The international community has pledged three billion dollars for
tsunami relief and reconstruction.
According to experts, the reconstruction and rehabilitation work will
cost more money and more time over the next few years. The dedication by
the aid workers, agencies and the Government for a longer period is
necessary to restore the lost homes and businesses.
The massive earthquake that triggered in the tip of Indonesia, swept
across the Indian Ocean, sweeping away lives and communities in 12
countries - from Indonesia to Somalia on the east coast of Africa.
Governments say more than 170,000 people died or disappeared,
although many aid agencies and survivors say the toll may be close to
300,000. The victims came from all over the world - at least 2,000
tourists from Europe and North America were lost from the region's
beaches - making this a global disaster.